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The Indian Story Book by  Richard Wilson
Table of Contents


 

 

RAMA'S QUEST

I

[13] LIFE was indeed fair and beautiful in the city of Ayodhya, which was of matchless situation and shone resplendent with burnished gold; and all its people were good and beautiful, rich and happy. The streets of the city were broad and open, lined with elegant shops and lordly houses flashing in the sunlight with gems of unknown value. Food and water were plentiful, the sweetest music resounded on all sides, and the city was famous throughout the land for its holy men. The workmen rejoiced in the skill of their hands, the soldiers held the honour of Ayodhya dearer than life itself, while over all ruled King Dasaratha, full of virtue, wisdom, and valour.

But there was one deep shadow in this city of sunshine. The king had no son to succeed him.

One day he consulted the priests, who told him that the sacrifice of a horse would win for him the favour of the gods; and without delay preparations were made for the ceremony, which was conducted with the greatest care, with the result that the noble [13] king, to his unbounded joy, was promised the reward, not of one son, but four!

In due time four sons were born to King Dasaratha, and the name given to the first was Rama, who grew up to become a youth of more than ordinary strength, skill, bravery, and beauty. One day he met a holy man who told him that at the time of his birth the gods had created a very large number of Bears and Monkeys who would one day be useful to him in the work which he was destined to do.

On another day a priest came to him and told him that his friends, who formed a community of hermits, were greatly troubled by a band of demons, and that they would be glad of his help against their dreadful foes. At first the king was unwilling to let the boy go on such a dangerous expedition, but after a while he was persuaded to give his consent, and Rama set out at once in the company of his brother Lakshmana and a friend who had magic powers.

The land through which the travellers journeyed was thinly peopled and for the most part covered with forests in which there were many hermitages; and before they had covered much ground Rama was asked to challenge a dreadful ogress named Tarika who lived in the dark recesses of a wood.

Rama twanged his huge bow in the hearing of the monster, who was greatly enraged at the sound and at once showed fight. Her method of attack was to raise a blinding, choking dust round about her opponent and under cover of this to shower down heavy stones upon him. The brothers were. [15] however, so skilful with their bows that they intercepted these stones in mid-air with their arrows while at the same time they shot away the hands, nose, and ears of the ogress. Then she changed her shape again and again, baffling the efforts of the brothers for a time, but at last they found her in the shape of a serpent and laid her dead at their feet. Then they went on their way again rejoicing, with the praises of the hermits singing in their ears.

This was not the only combat in which the brothers and the magician engaged during their journey through the forest-lands; but in each fight they were successful chiefly because they lived sparingly, exercised constantly, took great interest in the history of the places which they passed, and performed their religious duties with great care and unfailing regularity. Thus, living a healthy life in the open air, they were able to meet with confidence of victory any danger which arose.

At last the wanderers came to the kingdom of King Mithila, who had a lovely daughter named Sita, of whom many wonderful tales were told, none more strange than that of the manner of her birth. For it was told, when the king was ploughing the ground at a festival the beautiful princess had sprung, full grown, radiant and smiling, from a furrow which the monarch had turned. Further, it was said that Sita would become the bride of any warrior who could bend the huge and ponderous bow which the king kept in his armoury and which had belonged to no less a personage than the great god Siva. Rama and [16] his companions soon heard these stories and naturally were very curious to see both the princess and the bow; and as soon as the introduction to the king had been effected by the magician, Rama asked for the privilege of trying his strength on the wonderful weapon.

So it was brought from the armoury on a cart with eight wheels drawn along by a great company of stalwart men. Rama raised it in his hands, bent it and broke it, to the accompaniment of such a deafening sound that the whole company rolled head over heels in consternation and astonishment, all of course except the magician and the royal company, who were much too dignified for such an expression of wonder.

The king could not deny his beautiful daughter to such a hero, if indeed he had wished to do so, which he did not. Arrangements were therefore made for the wedding festival, and brides were also found for the three brothers of Rama, who had been sent for post-haste as soon as the prince had proved his strength with the bow. After the marriage, which was conducted with equal solemnity and rejoicing, the brothers returned to Ayodhya and the magician took his way alone to the mountains to spend his time in prayer, fasting, and contemplation.

II

The years went by swiftly enough, for Rama was happy in his wife and his friends. Then came a [17] time of woe and trouble due to the jealousy of an angry woman. The king was growing old and wished to hand over the cares of government to Rama. Indeed he began to make preparations for doing so when he was arrested by the anger of one of his wives, the mother of Prince Bharata, who himself had no desire to live in enmity with his beloved brother Rama, the idol of the city.

The king endeavoured to appease the jealousy of the offended queen, but she demanded that Rama should be banished to the forests for a period of fourteen years while her own son Bharata should be made ruler in place of his father. The old king was so much under her influence that he was forced to consent, and then to his further grief he was told that Rama, with true greatness of soul, had undertaken to go into voluntary exile in order that the peace of the happy city might be preserved.

The people of Ayodhya were filled with grief when they heard the news, but they were powerless in the matter, and Rama made his preparations without further delay. He tried to persuade his wife to remain behind, but with a gentle smile she asked proudly:

"What are the terrors of the forest to me, what are the privations of exile, so long as we are together?"

And when she saw that Rama was unwilling to place such a burden upon her, she burst into tears, threw herself into his arms, and finally persuaded her husband to let her share his exile. Then the laughing Lakshmana too came forward and offered to go [18] with them. His offer was accepted, and the three made ready to leave the city in which they had enjoyed such happiness.

Their dignity and devotion did not make the slightest appeal to the heart of the jealous queen, who herself brought to them the suits of bark which they were to wear in the forest. The two princes put on their new dress without remark, but Sita was unwilling to exchange her bright silks for such a rough and uncomfortable costume; and after a time it was arranged that she should wear the coat of bark over her silken raiment. Then the three exiles took tender leave of the broken-hearted king, and made respectful obeisance to the jealous queen, while Rama told her that not she but the will of the gods sent them forth as exiles from his father's house, and that in due time the wise purpose of heaven would be clear to the eyes of all.

The king, as a final favour, ordered that the exiles should be conveyed from the city in a royal chariot, and before long they were on their way, taking with them only their arms and armour, a husbandman's hoe, and a basket bound in hide. Such was the grief of the people at their departure that the dust raised by the wheels of the chariot was laid by their copious tears.

III

After a long journey they came to the borders of the great forest through which the sacred Ganges [19] flows, where they dismissed the charioteer, giving him many tender messages to their friends in the royal city.

They now began the life of the forest hermit and did not seek to relieve themselves of any of its hardships. Dressed in their coats of bark, they made their way to the bank of the river, where they happened to find a boat, which they entered. They crossed the broad stream and plunged into the depths of the dark forest, walking always in single file with Sita in the middle.

A little later they came to another stream, which they crossed on a raft made by themselves of the trunks of saplings, and, choosing a pleasant spot on the side of a wooded hill, they built a humble cottage of wood and thatched it with leaves. Here they settled down to the hermit's life, living on the game in which the forest abounded and the fruits which grew in great profusion near their dwelling.

Meanwhile in far-away Ayodhya events of great importance were taking place. The exile of Rama preyed so much upon the mind of the old king that he died and his son Bharata was called to the throne. Now this great-hearted prince had been absent from home for a long time, and when he returned he was filled with grief and wrath at the banishment of Rama, and he bitterly reproached his mother for her cruel jealousy. He refused to become king, and, after burying his father with careful attention to all the necessary rites and due observance of historic customs, he made preparations for a journey to the [20] forest, where he hoped to find his brother and bring him back in triumph to rule in his father's place. A great company of princes, courtiers, nobles, and people of the city prepared to set out with him, and before long they were on their way through the forest, and, directed by a hermit whom they met, they crossed the two broad rivers and passed on to the wooded hill on the side of which the royal exile had made his humble home.

After a long journey they found the prince sitting in his cottage, his hair long and matted like a hermit's, dressed in the black skin of the deer and a well-worn garment of bark. Bharata greeted him with lowly reverence and told him of the death of his father, which so affected the prince that he fell down in a swoon and was with difficulty revived by Sita and his brothers.

Then Bharata seated himself before Rama and begged him with tears in his eyes to come back to Ayodhya and take his rightful place as king of the city. Rama refused to do this, preferring to spend in exile the full term of years appointed by his father.

"Give me, then," said Bharata, "the gold-worked sandals from your feet. I will carry them back to Ayodhya as a token that I am your viceroy, and I will rule in your name until the years of exile are ended." So the prince returned with his friends to the city and undertook the work of government in the name and under the authority of Rama.

The years passed on, but the exiles did not remain in the same pleasant spot; they left their cottage [21] after a while and wandered onward from hermitage to hermitage. In one of these retreats they found an old man and his wife who had won great magic powers by their severity of life, and the old woman welcomed the beautiful Sita with open arms. The two women spent several days in quiet conversation, and when the travellers were preparing to go on their way the elder said to the younger, "See, little one, I have a present for you. Let me dress you and adorn you in a manner suitable to your rank." Then she brought out a beautiful dress of silk with costly ornaments and a garland of lovely flowers; and she took great delight in dressing and adorning the beautiful young princess, standing away from her to admire the effect of her loving handiwork.

On went the travellers, greatly comforted and refreshed. Now as they passed from place to place Rama heard many stories of the evil deeds of the monsters known as the Rakshasas, who were the inveterate foes of gods and men and especially of holy hermits; and many were the appeals to Rama to free the forest from these dreadful beings.

One day the exiles came upon one of these monsters, whose terrible ugliness defies description, and who was holding spellbound with a single spear a great crowd of wild animals of the forest. When he saw the beautiful princess he at once snatched her up in his arms and turned to carry her off. But in a moment Rama's bow was busy though his task was rendered difficult owing to the necessity for avoiding those parts of the monster's body which [22] were protected by the form of his beloved wife. So well, however, did he and his brother ply their bows, that the Rakshasa dropped the princess, seized both his foes, placed them across his broad shoulders, and turned towards a forest path which led into a gloomy recess. Then the air was rent with the piercing cries of Sita, which had such a stirring effect upon the brothers that with a mighty effort they broke from the monster's grasp and attacked him with their fists. There was a fierce encounter which ended in the death of the grisly foe, and the heroes having rested for a while went on their way rejoicing.

IV

At the next hermitage on their way the exiles were granted a vision which filled them with strength and contentment; for they saw the chief of the gods seated in a shining chariot drawn by green horses and protected from the rays of the sun by a broad canopy supported by maidens of surpassing beauty. As soon as the three travellers appeared the splendid vision vanished, and the hermit who had been so favoured came from his cell. He was a very old man, and his eyes seemed to be looking far away into space. Rama spoke to him, but without a word in reply he sprang into a fire which had been kindled before his hut. In a few moments the hermit's worn and wasted body disappeared, and he stood up in the form of a young man of glorious beauty and

[23] godlike strength. Then, mounting upwards as if borne by unseen hands, he disappeared in the clouds and left the exiles wondering.

Now the encounter with the Rakshasa had filled the heart of Sita with tender fears for her husband's safety, and she lovingly tried to persuade him to avoid any further contests with these fierce and relentless foes. "It is your fearless bearing and the fearful appearance of your mighty bow," she said, "which provokes these dreadful creatures. Let me tell you a tale which proves the truth of my words.

"Many years ago there lived in the woods a hermit who was so severe upon himself that even the chief of the gods schemed to frustrate him. So he took the form of a warrior and visited the saint in his cell, leaving with him, on his departure, his sword in sacred trust. The hermit was so careful to guard the treasure that he carried it with him wherever he went, and its possession made him so warlike and quarrelsome that he forsook the saintly life and fell a victim to his foes."

Rama smiled as he listened to the artless story, md gently told the princess that it was his bounden duty to act as guardian to the peaceful hermits of the forest, and that he meant to use his warlike weapon until the place was entirely freed from the Rakshasas.

So the years went by in combat and rest, effort md refreshment, facing of danger and winning of victory. At one time Lakshmana built a large clay mt propped on pillars and provided with a real floor [24] of wood, in which they lived happily for some time, until a certain giantess, enraged at the beauty of Sita, plotted against their peace and made an attempt to kill the princess. She was, however, prevented by Lakshmana, who cut off her nose, whereupon she went away in a great rage to prevail upon her brothers to avenge her loss upon the princely wanderers.

Then Rama went out alone with his bow in his hand and was met by a great shower of arrows, rocks, and trees, clubs, darts, and loops of rope which threatened to catch him by the neck and make him captive like a slave. With wonderful speed, strength, and skill he plied his bow, and the air grew dark with the shade cast by his arrows until at last the giants yielded, but their leader continued the fight unaided. He hurled his ponderous mace at Rama, who cut it in two with his arrows as it sped through the air. The giant uprooted a tall tree, but as it came rushing through the air it was cut in pieces by the arrows from that wonderful bow. Then an arrow like a flash of lightning sped through the air and the giant leader fell dead upon the earth; and as he fell Rama heard above him a peal of drums which spoke of victory, and saw descending through the air a shower of roses, lilies, arid lotus flowers which fell gently upon his head and shoulders.

V

Now one of the giants had left the field of battle and made his way to the court of Ravana, the king of [25] the giants, where he told of the fate which had befallen that monarch's army at the hands of the mighty Rama. As he spoke the giantess also came to tell of the wrong she had suffered at the hands of Lakshmana, and the terrible Ravana swore to take the most dire vengeance upon the three wanderers, and that without loss of time.

Now when Ravana had come to this decision, he rested upon it for a while and did not appear to be exceedingly eager to place himself in the way of the two brave brothers; but his sister, who had lost her nose, told him that the best possible way of revenging himself upon Rama was to carry off his beautiful and devoted wife. The king of the giants thereupon roused himself and began to think the matter out; and when he did  begin with a plot he was an adept at making it successful.

He called to him a Rakshasa named Maricha, and by his magic power transformed him into a beautiful golden deer which had its sides spotted with silver and horns set with jewels. He then told the animal to present itself before Sita, who, when she saw it, was filled with wondering admiration and begged Rama to go after it and capture it.

Rama consented to do so, but stipulated that his brother was to remain in charge of Sita and on no account to allow her to go out of his sight. After a short chase he shot the deer in the breast and with its last breath it called out in a plaintive voice, "Ah, Sita! Ah, Lakshmana!" cleverly reproducing the tones of Rama himself. The words reached the ears [26] of Sita, as they were intended to do, and she implored Lakshmana to go at once to the help of her lord. At first he refused, but when the princess began to reproach him with cowardice he had no choice but to set out on the errand.

Sita placed herself at the door of her cottage to await the return of the brothers, and as she sat there a poor priest approached her begging for hospitality. She rose and gave him water to wash his feet as well as food of the best the cottage contained, but while she did so her eyes were fixed upon the forest, looking eagerly for her absent lord. She seemed, indeed, to be lost in anxious contemplation, but was suddenly aroused from her reverie in a terrifying manner, for her guest assumed the form of the monster Ravana with his ten heads and twenty arms, and in a moment Sita was being carried rapidly through the air in the golden car of the king of the giants. As the chariot sped onward the poor princess raised loud cries of distress which were heard only by the vulture-king, who came at once to the rescue. There was a fierce fight, ending in the infliction of a mortal wound upon the noble bird, which fell to the ground, and Ravana went on his way over mountains, rivers, lakes, and seas until he came at last to Lanka, his royal city, where Sita was safely housed.

Meanwhile Rama had returned to his cottage with Lakshmana, and so great was his grief at the loss of his wife that his brother found it necessary to remind him of the necessity for preserving his dignity. This reminder had the effect of calming Rama, who [27] now began to think out a plan for the recovery of Sita. At first he roamed aimlessly about in the neighbourhood of his cottage hoping to find the lost one quite near to his home, and trying to persuade himself that she had only wandered away for a short distance on her own accord. But he came upon the dying vulture and learnt the truth from him; and now he knew that he had before him a task which would test all his powers to the uttermost. The loss of his wife, however, had only served to rouse him to superhuman efforts, and after the first spasms of bitter grief had spent themselves he felt able to cope with the strongest powers of evil in order to win his loved one back again; and he found, in time, a strange ally in working out his task.

As he was making his way through the woods he came upon the Monkey King, whose name was Sugriva and who had a very melancholy disposition indeed. He took no pleasure in the blossoming trees or the song of birds; flowers to him were mere frivolity; and he only loved the streams because they seemed to him to sing a song which never varied in its mournfulness, and because they were convenient receptacles for the floods of tears which he shed day after day. His immediate attendants were Nala, Nila, Tara, and Hanuman, Son of the Wind.

When these intelligent animals saw Rama and his brother and noted the bows in their hands, they took to flight, hid themselves in a dark grove, and seated themselves in a circle with their chins upon their knees to consider what was next to be done.

"We have made a mistake to run away," said the Son of the Wind, "for these mortals may be of use to us."

"Men are treacherous and malicious," said Sugriva, dropping a few tears, "and we cannot be sure that these two warriors have not been sent here by Bali, the usurping King of the Monkeys, to whom all my woes are due."

Then the Son of the Wind begged for permission to approach the strangers, and, having obtained it, donned a hermit's cloak and went to meet the brothers.

"Who are you, heroes, whose limbs are like young fir trees?" he asked courteously. "If your errand be as worthy as your bearing is gallant, let me be your guide through this wood."

Lakshmana smiled to see a monkey in the dress of a hermit, and made himself and his brother known to the Son of the Wind, telling him that a hermit had recommended them to seek the help of Sugriva, the King of the Monkeys, in the search for Sita.

Hanuman cast aside his cloak. "Sugriva is my sovereign," he said. "Mount upon my back and I will bring you to him with the speed of the Wind whose son am I." The heroes at once took advantage of this intelligence, and in a few moments were shading hands with Sugriva, who was greatly pleased with the sad countenance of Rama, and shed streams ol sympathetic tears when he heard of his woes "I saw your beloved carried off," he said, "clasped [29] closely in the arms of Ravana"—here he shed more tears as if he revelled in the anguish which such a remembrance would bring to the heart of Rama, then he went on?" She screamed to me but was too far off to be heard; but as she was borne still higher into the air a tiny golden circlet dropped from her ankle and fell at my feet, followed by a scarf of pale soft azure. Then I wept so sorely that the river overflowed its banks. I have this scarf and anklet of gold in my cavern and I will fetch them to you."

He did so, and Rama found it difficult to preserve his dignity at the sight of them; and while he was looking steadfastly at them Sugriva said, "I too am in misfortune similar to your own. Let us help each other."

VI

The hero smiled at the words, but was too courteous to wound the feelings of the intelligent creature and begged him to explain himself. So the King of the Monkeys sat down with his chin on his knees and told the listening brothers how he was the victim of the cruel plots of the usurper Bali, who had driven him from his monkey throne. "And there is none on earth," he concluded, "who is able to subdue the usurper."

Lakshmana laughed loudly. "Why," he said, "Rama, King of Men, could hold his own in any circumstances and conquer anything!"

"I doubt," said the melancholy Sugriva, "whether [30] he could cope with Bali. Why, one day he clove with one single arrow the hearts of three palm trees."

"That is child's play," said Rama, and at once sent an arrow from his bow which clove seven trees and then stuck into a hard rock in the side of a mountain.

"O Elephant among Men?" cried Sugriva, surprised out of his melancholy into admiration, "come with me and in the strength of your presence I will defy Bali and all his monkeys." So the two set out, Sugriva defied Bali, fought with him, was beaten once, but fought again, and, finally, with the help of his new friend, brought the usurper to his death. So was Sugriva restored to his kingdom and was now ready to place his army of Monkeys and Bears at the disposal of Rama in order that they might begin in the forest the search for Sita, which they were better able to undertake than the cleverest mortals, to whom forest-craft is an accomplishment only acquired after much practice. You may remember how the gods had created this great army of Monkeys and Bears at the birth of Rama, and their purpose was now to be made clear; for the intelligent animals were marshalled under Hanuman and told that they were to search in all possible places for the lovely Sita and to return in a month to make their report.

Now their vigorous search was of no avail; and as they were under penalty of death at the hands of Sugriva if they were not successful, the leaders [31] agreed to put an end to their own lives, for their intelligence was only equalled by their melancholy outlook. The ancient vulture whose name was Sampati overheard them express their determination, and his fiery eyes gleamed with fierce pleasure at the thought of the feast before him. "Beyond a doubt," he said in a tone which the Monkey leaders clearly overheard, "it is truly pious to put an end to one's life when the purpose of existence has failed."

This pious speech did not greatly please the monkey generals, for it is one thing to express a determination to die, and quite another matter to find that some one will be greatly pleased at one's death. So the leaders paused for a while to engage in conversation with the hungry vulture and learnt from him that not long before Ravana had passed that way bearing the lovely Sita in his arms.

"Which direction did the monster take?" inquired the generals with great eagerness.

"A hundred miles from here," said the ancient vulture, "is the sea that washes. all the southern coast, and a hundred miles from the shore is the Isle of Lanka, where Ravana dwells; thither, beyond a doubt, he has carried the beautiful Sita."

When he had given these directions the ancient vulture seemed to be renewed in strength, and without waiting for the suicide of the Monkey generals spread his wings and flew away. Then the leaders rose up refreshed and vigorous and put their army in motion towards the sea. After a long [32] and somewhat painful march they came to the shore and found the moaning of the breakers quite in keeping with the melancholy of their hearts.

They rested for the night, and next day considered the problem of transport across the moaning waters—a matter of sufficient difficulty to test all the intelligence they possessed. The generals ranged themselves in a line along the shore, leant their heads to the right and looked at the sea, and then leant their heads to the left and looked at it again; afterwards they all looked at each other and none spoke a word for a long time.

Then Hanuman, the Son of the Wind, rose to the occasion like a true leader. "Will you trust this matter to me?" he cried. "We will!" cried the leaders in reply. "We will!" echoed the whole army till the earth shook and the mountains shouted back. Then they wound a garland of scarlet flowers round the neck of their leader and led him to the top of a high mountain that he might leap from thence right across the water to the Isle of Lanka, for this was his daring plan.

In a moment his mighty bulk was rushing through the air at tremendous speed, while his shadow darkened the kingdom of the fishes, who were very angry and sent a sea monster with a mouth like a cavern to swallow him up. But he darted into the gaping jaws and making himself smaller forced his way through the monster's back in such a hurry that it died. In due time the Son of the Wind swooped down upon the coast of Lanka, rested a [33] while to take breath, and then felt so pleased with himself that he actually laughed.

VII

"Here am I in the Isle of the Rakshasas," he said to himself. "My sea passage has been a mere pleasure excursion to me. Now, how am I to discover the retreat of Sita, I wonder?" Then he took his chin in his hand to think over the matter.

"I am very big," he said to himself, "and before I can hope to win success I must be of such proportions as will not excite attention." Thereupon he reduced himself to the size of a cat, and when night had fallen he crawled upon the wall and looked down upon Ravana's royal city. The streets were silent, but from the gorgeous palaces came the sound of sweetest music, while the smell of delicious foods assailed his nostrils. He crept silently through the streets until he came to a palace more magnificent than the others and guarded by a number of savage Rakshasas dressed in sombre garments and armed with weapons of every description. They were too large and dignified to pay any attention to the insignificant Monkey, and Hanuman was therefore able to slip by them unseen.

He found himself in a vast and lofty corridor, and, creeping along by the wall, he reached a distant apartment from whence came music such as sea-fairies make when whispering to their pink conch-shells. He put back the heavy curtains, and, looking [34] in, saw a number of beautiful maidens wrapped in deepest slumber, but Sita was not among them. He felt sure of this. Somehow he knew that if she had been present he would have been conscious of the fact. So he passed on to the door of another apartment whence came a sound like thunder.

It was the snoring of Ravana!

The Son of the Wind peeped in and saw the ten -headed Rakshasa sunk in heavy sleep. All his mouths were open and all his noses were snoring at the same time. Hanuman looked at him for a few moments and then swiftly made his way from the palace and into the street, where he began to reflect that after all he had failed to discover anything with regard to Sita. "She may have perished miserably," he said, "and if Rama learns this heavy news he will surely die of grief, and Lakshmana too and all the others. Sugriva, I am sure, will weep himself to death. The joys of life are over for me, and nothing remains but to become a hermit."

At that moment the morning suddenly dawned, and, thinking it wise to hide himself from too observant eyes, he fled for shelter to a lovely grove of blossoming trees. The sight of such beauty cheered his heart a little, and climbing to the top of one of the trees he scanned the pathways of the wood. Then he saw at a little distance a group of female Rakshasas whose ugliness is beyond description, and, wonder of wonders, in the centre of the ring which they formed sat Sita herself! Her long black hair streamed down to the ground, her eyes were down- [35] cast, her lips moved tremulously, her arms were stretched out, and her little hands, clenched in despair, rested upon the ground at her sides. She wore a simple tunic of a soft, bright amber colour, and in spite of her grief and dejection she was more beautiful than ever.

Presently the sound of music and merry voices came through the wood, and a band of dancing girls appeared who preceded Ravana himself. Sita sprang to her feet and gave him such a look of hatred and disgust that in spite of all his power he trembled with fear, for he was learning that love can conquer all things. Then, holding out both her arms as though she saw Rama before her, she cried in piteous tones:

"My lord and my life! To thee I belong as radiance to the sun."

"Thou shalt never see him more," said Ravana.

"He will come to me," she said. "He will be here and that soon, the Avenger of my wrongs—a Lion among the sons of men! For this world belongs to Heaven, and Justice is its Law. Tremble, Ravana, for Rama is in pursuit of thee. Thou art a Serpent, but he is the Kingly Eagle who rids the earth of vermin."

"I give thee one month to forget him," muttered Ravana, "and if you do not, then you shall die!" Thereupon he turned and left the wood as he had entered it.

VIII

[36] Sita sank fainting upon the grass, and the Rakshasas closed around her trying to persuade her that Rama was not worthy of her, seeing that he made no efforts to find her out, and threatening her with untold torture if she did not try to forget him.

"Do what you will with me," cried the unhappy princess, casting herself prone upon the ground in her grief. "Why should I care for death when Rama is no longer with me?"

Then a strange thing happened. Sita suddenly raised herself to a sitting posture and, looking into the trees, began to listen earnestly. The Rakshasas hushed their cries and listened also, when they heard a voice which said, "Alas, alas, for Rama! An evil demon hath stolen the treasure of his heart, and always he longs for some messenger who will bid her, wherever she is, wait and trust and hope for the gladness of reunion."

Sita looked earnestly into the trees and saw—a little monkey. Her face fell "It was a dream," she cried, in a fresh burst of bitter grief. "My senses fail me! But perhaps that is well, for if madness seizes me I shall forget my sorrow."

Then she looked up at Hanuman. "Who art thou, little Creature?" she said.

"I am Hanuman, the friend of Rama," was the reply. "If you be Sita, take comfort, for Rama will soon snatch you from the power of Ravana."

[37] "Tell me of my lord," she said eagerly, "and of Lakshmana, the warrior with the laughing eyes." Then Hanuman told her the whole of the story and cheered her heart with a full account of Rama's grief and constancy. "Return to them to Rama and Lakshmana," she cried, "tell them where I am, and that if they do not come within a month I shall surely die."

"Nay, lady," said the little Creature, leaping lightly upon the ground, "mount upon my back and I will take thee to Rama." Then by his magic power he assumed once more his own size and towered above the slender queen.

"Prince of Monkeys," said Sita with the deepest possible respect, "I salute thee. But I prefer that Rama himself should rescue his own bride."

"Be it as you will," said Hanuman a little sadly. Then he took a respectful farewell and prepared to depart. But his heart was so full of rage against Ravana that he destroyed the trees of the beautiful grove, all except the ring of flowering saplings which surrounded Sita and her guardians. This behaviour was not calculated to advance the cause of Sita, for Ravana at once sent out his warriors, who, after a desperate fight, made Hanuman captive and dragged him before their master.

He was asked who he was and what his errand might be, and said boldly that he was the envoy of Rama, who, with the help of Sugriva's army, meant to destroy Lanka if Sita were not at once restored to him* Then Ravana was very angry and gave [38] orders that Hanuman's tail should be set on fire. But Sita, hearing of the decision, prayed to the Fire, which forthwith played round Hanuman's tail with- out burning it; and the Son of the Wind at once reduced his size to that of a grasshopper, leapt upon a palace roof and set the building on fire with the flame, which was still playing round his tail. Then he climbed to the top of a high mountain and stretched out his arms towards the opposite shore, and as he sped through the air to the coast he heard the welcoming cries of the Monkey army.

As soon as he had stepped down to earth he found Rama in the leader's camp along with Sugriva and Lakshmana, and when they heard that the time for action had come they laughed aloud in glee, so eager were they to plunge into the fray. And while they consulted as to the best means of crossing the sea, they saw sailing towards them overhead a monstrous cloud that took shape as it drew nearer and was seen to be a colossal Rakshasa, the brother of Ravana, who quickly alighted and informed Rama that he had come to be his ally and guide. Sugriva suspected treachery, but the high-souled Rama accepted the new-comer as a friend and the consultation went forward, but no course of action could be decided upon, possibly because the counsellors were too many.

Then Rama took his bow and went down to the edge of the water, and there he shot an arrow into the deep heart of the ocean; and there was such a commotion and consternation among the sharks, and [39] whales, and crocodiles, and all the little fishes that they begged the Queen of the Sea to rise to the surface and find out whom she had offended. So the beautiful Spirit of the Sea arose and rebuked Rama for his anger and impatience. The warrior then questioned her as to the possibility of building a bridge to Lanka, but she said that this would not be permitted. "But build a mole across the water," she said, "and I will give your army safe passage to Ravana's realm."

Then a hundred thousand Monkeys leapt into the water laden with shrubs and stones, and they made a solid path to Lanka, while the Queen of the Sea prevented the sharks and crocodiles and other monsters from interfering with the work.

IX

It was night, and Ravana stood alone upon the ramparts of the pleasant town of Lanka. They had told him that his foes would make a pathway through the trackless sea and he had laughed, but now that he was alone with Night he knew that his hour had come, and looking out across the dark waters he saw the creeping army approaching nearer and nearer to his shores. No sound was heard while the strange warriors arranged themselves in troops and squadrons by the margin of the silent sea.

Then Ravana left the ramparts.

As soon as morning dawned he went to the grove where Sita was kept a prisoner by her guard of [40] monsters. He entered her cave and knelt before the princess. "Rama is dead," he cried. "He came in the night; my young warriors surrounded him and slew him. Ho, there!" he cried, turning towards the entrance to the cave, "bring me the head of Rama!"

It was easy enough for a magician to produce a head and even to ensure its resemblance to that of the hero Rama, easy enough to fill the soul of the tortured princess with terror and to plunge her heart into the lowest depths of grief, but it showed a complete lapse of intelligence on the part of Ravana to expect that the death of Rama would be followed by the winning of Sita for himself. For a time, at least, the poor princess passed beyond all knowledge of her loss and of the torture to which she was subjected, for, with a piercing cry of "Dead! My lord!" she sank to the ground in an overmastering swoon.

Ravana took his departure, and the kindly gods who had sent unconsciousness to Sita now sowed compassion in the heart of one of her guardians, who raised the princess in her arms and whispered words of comfort in her ear. "It is merely a trick," she said in a soothing tone. "Look up, my little Singing Bird. Open thine eyes. Thy hero is not dead. A vast army has landed on our shore, and among them moves one whose sad and noble countenance proclaims him to be Rama, your godlike husband,"

The fainting heart of the princess revived upon [41] hearing these words, and she graciously thanked the indly monster for her tenderness and courtesy.

Meanwhile the Monkey army had met and utterly outed the forces of Ravana, and the leaders were ven now at the gates of Lanka. Then Sugriva tood forth and warned the people of the place that he hour of judgment had come for Ravana, whose :areer of injustice, oppression, and cruelty was now sided. But he offered mercy to the inhabitants if he princess were at once sent out to Rama with all lue courtesy and respect.

The courtiers of Ravana laughed scornfully. "We shall see if blows be as easy as words to Rama," said the Rakshasa, "this precious prince whose friends are Monkeys."

Then the fighting began again. Armed with trees which they had torn up by the roots, the followers of Sugriva advanced upon the four walls of the city, Rama, Lakshmana, and Sugriva choosing to attack the northern gate unaided. The battle continued throughout the day. Night fell, but the stars refused to shine upon a scene so terrible and so strange. The sounds of drums and trumpets blended with the fierce growlings of the fighters, and the two princes moved among them in a godlike radiance which surrounded their forms and served to act as a kind of strange armour, protecting them from the arrows of their foes while it singled them out in the darkness and offered what appeared to be an easy mark for the archers. This supernatural protection roused the anger of their foes, and one of [42] the Rakshasas called magic to his aid, mounted into the air in a chariot all unseen by the enemy, and harassed the attacking forces with enchanted arrows. So effective was this ruse that Rama and Lakshmana were both severely wounded and fell to the ground. Then the fighting was stayed and the Rakshasa in his airy chariot flashed into sight. "Behold," he cried, ' your leaders fall Pick up your dead, ye poor deluded Monkeys; go back from whence ye came, and hide your wounds and shame in the deepest, darkest recesses of the forests to which you belong."

Sugriva ran to the side of the prostrate Rama and dropped many bitter tears upon him. But at that moment Rama opened his eyes, and seeing his brother stretched at his side, apparently dead, closed them again in despair. This had a bracing effect upon Sugriva, who flung his arms about his head and declared his intention of rescuing Sita by himself and then setting fire to the town. Then the Wind, the kindly god which cheers the heart in drought and foretells the coming of cool, refreshing showers, whispered in the ear of the half-unconscious Rama:

"Rama of the brawny arms, remember the greatness of thy heart. Be true to thyself. Thy mission is to cleanse the world of evil, which is embodied in hideous form in the persons of Ravana and his crew." At these words the heart of the hero revived, and he leapt to his feet, while Lakshmana also arose with the laughter which goes before conquest in his eyes. Then the desperate fight began again.

X

Now Ravana had a younger brother named Kumbhakarna, who was a very ugly Giant, requiring such a great deal of food that nothing was safe within his reach. He devoured everything that came in his way, everything indeed which his huge, fat, ugly, spreading feet did not crush as flat as a cake of flour. He had a simple mind and harboured no malice in his heart, but, like many other well-meaning, clumsy creatures, he did a great deal of mischief; so much indeed that most people wished that the gods would conduct him in a kindly way to some place of retreat where there was plenty of food and where he would be under no necessity of moving about to satisfy his hunger. This was the only thing which impelled him to move about, and every one felt that if he could only be fed by some one else all would be well. No one wished for his death, for he was, as we have hinted, a very jolly Giant.

One day the chief of the gods had summoned him to his presence and told him how every one was complaining of his tremendous appetite and the clumsiness of his ways. The huge Giant looked very sheepish but had not a word to say, for the weight of his body was only equalled by the apparent lightness of his mind. "I cannot judge thee harshly," said the chief of the gods, "and all that I can do is to put you to sleep."

At these words Kumbhakarna sank down with an easy smile and went to sleep.

[44] "For one day in six months you shall be free to roam at will and to eat whatever you do not crush," said the chief of the gods. So the good-natured Giant slept for a long time and woke for a short time, to the great comfort of all who lived in Lanka and the rest of the world.

But when Ravana found himself in great straits during the desperate war with Rama, the Rakshasa began to think that his heavy brother ought to rouse himself and help in the family necessity. "Of what use to the realm is this Giant's enormous strength and appetite if he cannot get up, crush, kill, and eat as many as possible of these pestilent Monkeys?" This was, of course, a very natural complaint, and a company of Rakshasas at once set out for the palace of the Slumberous Giant.

As soon as they came near the gate they were blown backwards for several yards by the heavy breathing of the sleeper, but, holding each other firmly, they managed to keep their feet and to advance with lowered heads against the breeze. After an invigorating struggle they arrived at last in the chamber of the jolly Giant, whom they found prone upon his back snoring in such a manner that the huge building trembled to its very foundations.

Then the messengers of Ravana, holding fast to the wall and to one another, piled up around the couch of the sleeper mountains of buffalo flesh, whole gazelles, boars, and all manner of meats very tasty to an eater who found no delight in nuts and vegetables. They filled golden vases with fiery [45] drinks and placed them close to the sleeper's nostrils. Then they retired to a place which was out of the draught and awaited results.

But this plan had little effect. Kumbhakarna stirred slightly as if the pleasant odours had reached him in his dream, but the depth of his slumber was in no way disturbed. Then the messengers anointed his huge limbs with oil of sandal-wood. They sounded brazen trumpets in his cavernous ears. They shouted, clapped their hands, and leapt heavily upon his couch.

But Kumbhakarna slept and snored.

Next they brought camels and asses and elephants, and lashed them till they ran round the room grunting and hee-hawing and trumpeting with a tumult that was heard all over the town of Lanka.

But Kumbhakarna slept and snored.

So some of the messengers pulled his hair; others pinched or pummelled him; one bit his thumb; others hammered him with heavy mallets and clubs; a few leapt upon his body and ran races over him from head to heel and back again.

But Kumbhakarna slept and snored.

Then they tried a new plan. They brought to the palace a crowd of the most beautiful singing girls in Lanka, and these maidens, clasping hands, danced round the prostrate form of the slumberer, singing softly all the while, bending now and again to whisper in the sleeper's ear, and occasionally breaking into the gentlest of laughter, which sounded like the tinkling of silver bells. Of course in their [46] circular dance each light-footed maiden passed into the direct draught caused by the Giant's heavy breathing and the air lifted her from her feet. But the gentle ring was unbroken, and this variation only increased the beauty and gracefulness of the dance.

XI

Suddenly the Giant flung up his arms; he yawned, and it seemed as if the roof would be rent with the sound. Then to the accompaniment of a mighty sigh he opened his eyes and lay staring in stupid amazement, while the singing maidens vanished like a dream.

Kumbhakarna sat upright. "Why have you disturbed me?" he asked, and the shrinking courtiers, bowing to the earth, answered reverently, "Thy brother Ravana, whose servant we are, has need of your matchless valour, glorious and resplendent Kumbhakarna."

The Giant sprang to his feet and commenced to eat and drink, while the courtiers turned their faces to the wall. When he was quite satisfied he stood up and bellowed boldly:

"Who is my brother's enemy?"

"An army of Monkeys led by Prince Rama has already defeated him more than once. Follow us, O Prince, and put fresh hope and courage into his fainting heart."

Kumbhakarna at once set out and was received with great joy by Ravana. "Who is this Rama?" [47] inquired the Giant, and Ravana turned to slander and defame his enemy, but, in spite of himself, these were the strange words he spoke?" He is of noble mind and the Friend of all Living Creatures, so that he does not disdain the help of the lowliest. I hold his wife, the peerless Sita, as my prisoner, and he has come in search of her at the head of an army of Monkeys and Bears."

"Send back Sita to her lord," said the good-natured Giant. "A bad deed weakens the arms and spoils one for honest warfare. Then, if you will, challenge Prince Rama to single combat, and let the better man win."

Ravana grew angry. "I do not need your advice, brother," he said, "but your help against my foes."

The Giant looked at him, not lazily and sleepily as he usually regarded everything, but with a strange fire of insight and intelligence in his eyes. Then he spoke slowly and clearly:

"One day I leapt from slumber and went abroad to appease my hunger. When I had done so, I sat down to rest, and Narada, the Messenger of the Gods, came and sat beside me.

" 'Whence come you, Narada?' I asked.

" 'From a council of the gods,' he said.

" 'And what was the purpose of that august meeting?' I inquired.

" 'To consider how the world could be freed from the curse of Ravana's presence,' was the reply.

" 'And what was the upshot?' was my next question.

[48] " 'It was decided/ said Narada, c that Vishnu, the ruler of gods and men, should take human form and cleanse the world of Demons such as Ravana.' Then the Messenger of the Gods disappeared," the Giant went on. "And if this Rama is king of gods and men in human shape, it will be well for us to yield to him without further delay."

Ravana laughed with tenfold scorn. "Would Vishnu choose Monkeys as his allies?" he asked. "Thy wit is as small as thy bulk is large. Get thee back to thy slumbers and I will face these foes unaided."

"Nay," said the Giant. "He who must  fight will  fight. Show me the foe."

Then Ravana gave his brother his pike of gleaming silver and his own cuirass of gold; and the Giant mounted a chariot drawn by a hundred asses and drew near to the enemy. A mighty rock was hurled at him, the asses were overturned, and the charioteer fell dead. But Kumbhakarna stepped to the ground and began mowing down his enemies like a lusty harvester. In due time he came upon Sugriva, who was armed with a mighty tree. "Hold, Monster," cried the King of the Monkeys, "and try thy strength with mine."

Kumbhakarna held his sides for laughter, snatched up a rock and laid the monarch low. Then he picked him up between his finger and thumb and cried, "Ho, you Monkeys, here is your king. It is time you went home."

But Sugriva was not dead. With a great effort [49] he sprang at the Giant's face and tore his cheeks with his nails. Kumbhakarna flung him down, and Sugriva was soon among his friends once more, while the angry Giant, blinded with rage and roaring with pain, began to move aimlessly about trampling down his foes by dozens.

Before long he came face to face with Rama and Lakshmana. An arrow from the bow of the peerless prince pierced the Giant's mighty arm. He rushed blindly at Rama, but another arrow struck him in the side. With a crash like a mountain hurled down from its height the Giant fell to the earth; as his head smote the ground his great heart broke, and he died.

Still the fierce war went on, with varying fortune, until the day came when Ravana swore a dreadful oath that before sunset either he or Rama should bite the dust. So he leapt into his chariot, sought out the peerless prince, and challenged him to a final wrestling bout. Rama's answer was a stream of arrows from his mighty bow, but his enemy put them aside as though they had been drops of rain, and hurling his spear at Lakshmana brought him senseless to the earth. This roused Rama to fury and he attacked Ravana at close quarters, until the the terrified Demon took fright, turned, and fled back to Lanka.

XII

Then Rama sought out his beloved brother and found him lying, to all appearance, dead. At that [50] moment Hanuman came up to him, and, pitying his grief, offered to fetch from the woods which clothed the sides of a far-off mountain a plant of sufficient healing-power to restore the warrior forthwith. "Away?" cried Rama, and without delay the mighty form of the Son of the Wind cleft the air. Ravana saw him go, and, guessing his errand, sent a messenger quicker ev^n than Hanuman to await his arrival on the mountain-side in the disguise of a hermit there to wreck his plans for the restoration of Lakshmana.

As Hanuman alighted in the wood he was met by this hermit, who invited him to refresh himself at the stream which flowed by the place of his retreat. As he stooped to drink a crocodile clutched him by the throat, but he tore the creature in two, when, to his surprise, a beautiful maiden rose from the slaughtered reptile, and, having thanked the Son of the Wind for releasing her from a vile enchantment, vanished into the air. Hanuman went back to the hermit, who was so much surprised to see him that he threw off his disguise and the two closed in a combat which ended with the death of Ravana's envoy.

Now these disturbing occurrences made Hanuman forget the description of the plant that he had come to seek—which is not surprising. But he was not to be daunted. He broke off a projecting crag from the side of the mountain, trees and undergrowth with it, leapt into the air, carried it to his friends and bade them find the healing plant among the rest. This was soon done, the leaves were laid upon [51] Lakshmana's wound, and in a moment he sat up, looked round upon his friends, and laughed pleasantly.

"Brother," he said to Rama, "did I dream, or did you swear to kill this monster before nightfall?"

"I swear it now," said Rama, making the promise which no man dares to break.

Meanwhile Ravana had prepared a chariot of ebony drawn by two coal-black horses. When this was told to the gods who befriended Rama they sent to the hero the chariot of the king of the gods. It was made from a shell of the softest, palest blue, surmounted by a rich purple banner, and drawn by four horses in colour and radiance like the sun in his strength, round whose necks hung golden bells which sent forth heavenly music as they moved.

Rama leapt gladly into this resplendent car, and the battle began between Light and Darkness. Before long the flight of Rama's arrows mingled with the darts of the Demon hid the two combatants from the eyes of the onlookers. But from the shade cast by the flying shafts they heard the majestic voice of Rama, stern with virtue yet tender with compassion. "Thou poor deluded monster," it said, "tossed to and fro by all the blasts of evil, Death is near to thee, and its deepest horror is to see thyself as thou art in the eyes of the loftiest virtue." As the voice rose through the conflict it weakened the arm of Ravana in a manner which could not be accomplished even by the arrows of Rama.

"Thine hour has come," cried his calm and [52] terrible foe, sending a shaft which tore off one of the Demon's heads.

But the head quickly grew again and Ravana appeared to be uninjured.

"Aim at his heart," cried the charioteer of the celestial car. "The heart, not the head, is the seat of evil."

Then Rama adjusted the fatal shaft, drew the string and let it go. The hissing arrow struck the heart of Ravana, who raised his clenched fist to Heaven as if in final defiance, staggered to the edge of his ebony chariot, and, like a mountain overwhelmed by earthquake, crashed to the earth—dead.

For a moment all was still—a deep sigh ran through the watching host like the whisper of a breeze through a field of corn which is white to harvest. Then from afar was heard the throbbing of the Drums of Victory sounded by the armies of the gods. From the sky fluttered a gentle rain of flowers, a soft breeze wafted down to earth bearing the sound of celestial melodies, and round about the car of Rama danced a troop of maidens more lovely than the dawn of early summer.

"All hail to Rama!" cried the watching army. "The power of Evil is conquered by the Friend of Living Creatures, and the reign of Justice has begun."

XIII

In a low-roofed cave, the entrance to which was almost hidden by flowering creepers, lay Sita fast [53] asleep with her head upon her arm. She had heard from afar the distant sounds of the contending forces, but there was none to tell her of the result of the fight, for the guardians of her captivity had left her. At last, wearied but not altogether unhappy, she had sunk into a restful slumber.

She was roused from pleasant dreaming by a feeling that she was not alone, and, opening her eyes, saw the Son of the Wind standing near her couch.

"Pearl of Living Creatures," she cried, "thou hast news of Rama my lord?" Then, overwrought with fear and watching, she burst into tears.

"Weep not, my Princess," said the kindly creature. "Rama is victorious. Ravana is dead."

"And my lord is here?" she cried, clasping her hands to her breast, "and I shall see my lord?"

"He will send at sunrise," said Hanuman, "for the battlefield is dark with blood and no fit spectacle for the eyes of a tender princess."

"At sunrise he will send," she said half to herself, again and again looking at the kindly Monkey before her whose ugliness seemed transformed by the unselfish service he had rendered to the cause of Right and Virtue. But his nature was unchanged and he begged permission from the princess to enter Lanka and avenge her still further upon its inhabitants.

Sita clapped her hands and broke into merry laughter. "Trouble them not, poor things," she said gently. "I have no desire that any creature, [54] great or small, should be in trouble and grief any longer."

It seemed a long time waiting for the dawn; but Sita's love for Rama was so steadfast that she did not pause to wonder why her lord had not hastened at once to meet her.

When morning dawned a messenger came to the cave bringing rich clothing, jewels, and perfumes. "Array yourself," he said, "in a manner fitting to your rank and destiny." With fingers trembling with happy eagerness the princess dressed and adorned herself and stepped into a gorgeous palanquin. In a few moments she was brought into the centre of the waiting army, and, hidden behind the rich curtains of her litter, heard at last the voice of Rama giving directions to his attendants.

But it sounded cold, distant, and strange to her. And when she stepped from her palanquin, radiant in youthful beauty, and ran with faltering feet to meet her lord and master, she was dismayed to find his face full of offended dignity and his eyes averted from her.

"Am I not worn and weary with search and combat ? And she comes to me radiant with the freshness of untired youth. Not one line of care shows upon her brow, no sign of having missed my tender guardianship!"

Then the laughing Lakshmana was very angry. "See, brother," he said, "there stands your bride with lustrous eyes imploring you. Have you no greeting for the gentle Sita?"

[55] But the Demon of Jealousy had taken possession of Rama's heart, and for a time at least his nobility of soul was clouded by the evil influence. If Sita's sorrow had left so few traces upon her beauty, he argued, torturing his own soul without reason, then at heart she must have been willing enough to be parted from him?"

"Alas!" she cried at last, turning in despair to Lakshmana, "build for me a funeral pyre, for it is time that I should die."

The heavy-hearted Lakshmana prepared to obey her, and in a silence which could be felt a great heap of boughs was raised. Then Sita ascended the pyre, while the flames were applied and licked the base of the structure with angry tongues. But Rama was still unmoved, in spite of the anger and grief of his faithful followers.

Then the gods, in pity for his human weakness, sent to these true lovers deliverance from the last anguish which was to trouble their hearts. From the unclouded heaven descended the god of Purity and Light in a blaze of splendour, and snatching Sita from the pyre placed her in the arms of Rama.

"Thou didst doubt me, my lord!" she said with gentle reproach.

"Forgive me, my Queen," he said, as he folded her in his arms. "The God of Fire has saved me from the Demon of Jealousy, and now I know thee as my Own my tender Love."

There is no need to tell of the joyous journey to [56] Ayodhya for the fourteen years of exile were accomplished, of the welcome accorded to Rama and his bride, or of the golden years which followed in that happy city, freed for ever from the shadow of Evil by the sufferings of the conquering Rama.


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