by Carole Losee © 2005-2019

ELIZABETH SEEGER'S

THE RAMAYANA


CHAPTER FIFTEEN

THE BATTLE

 

At Rama's command, the monkeys, in hundreds and thousands, rushed upon the mountain that upheld Lanka and began to scale its heights, roaring like thunderclouds. They tore down the outposts and reached the foot of the walls. Then Rávana ordered his troops to attack, and they poured out of the gates like the winds that will sweep the earth at doomsday. With the banging of kettledrums, the blare of trumpets and conch shells, they came forth in chariots and on elephants and horses, clad in mail and armed with every sort of weapon.

An appalling battle began between them, the monkeys yelling, "Victory to Rama and Sugriva!" the demons shouting, "Glory to Rávana!" Although the demons were better armed, they were surprised and confused by the attacks of the monkeys, who could smash a chariot and kill horses with one sweep of the huge branches they carried, or with their great rocks. Often they avoided the arrows and the lances of the foe by leaping upon the demons and crushing them in their powerful arms, biting them or scratching their eyes out. One blow of the palms of their hands or their fists could kill any creature. Rama and Lákshmana sent forth clouds of arrows from their bows, destroying the arrows of the enemy bowmen and slaying numberless soldiers.

At the end of that first day, apes and demons, horses and elephants lay dead upon the field among broken chariots, swords, shields, and fallen banners. The monkeys, trusting in Rama and Lákshmana, were weary but triumphant, while the demons longed for the coming of the night that would put an end to the battle.

On the next day and the following days Rávana sent forth his best warriors, ordering each one to kill Rama and Lákshmana. Every day one of them was slain in single combat, sometimes by Hánuman, sometimes by Angada who, though young, was a mighty warrior, then by Sugriva, after a fierce and terrible fight. Meanwhile all around them monkeys and demons fought and many on both sides were slain and many sorely wounded. The forest folk were used to wielding great branches or even young trees, and they soon picked up maces and swords that had fallen from the hands of dead warriors and used them well. Victory came on one day to one side and the next day to the other; sometimes the monkeys fled in terror before a fierce attack and again it was the nightprowlers who sought the shelter of the city's walls. At night, in Rama's camp, after the wounded had been cared for, those heroic fighters who had killed a great enemy in single combat were praised and acclaimed by their leaders and companions, while the demons returned to their city downcast and silent.

Rávana's fury and his anxiety increased as his warriors were killed. When his chief general, the leader of his army, had fallen under the monkey's blows, he decided to waken Kumbhakarna, who was a mighty warrior, in spite of his fatness and his enormous appetite; he had often fought beside Rávana in his wars against the gods. He was now fast asleep in a cavern on the side of the mountain, and Rávana sent soldiers to waken him.

First they gathered together huge quantities of food and drink, for they knew that the first thing he would want was an enormous meal; they took also garlands and perfumes to please him. All these they carried to the cave where they found him fast asleep, lying full length upon a couch. They shouted at him and blew conch shells and trumpets; they banged on drums and gongs and raised such an uproar that the birds, flying by, fell down from the sky. But nothing roused Kumbhakarna and his snoring was louder than all the noise they made. At last the soldiers climbed upon his body and jumped up and down upon it, and Kumbhakarna opened his huge mouth and yawned and then sat up, his eyes heavy with sleep.

"Why have you awakened me?" he asked. "Is the king in danger?" They told him what had happened since he sat in Rávana's council hall: how Rama and his army had crossed the ocean and were besieging Lanka and that Rávana had called for him. He ate first all that they had brought to him; then he went to the city and to his brother's palace, making the earth tremble under his steps.

He bowed to the king of demons and asked him why he had been awakened. "You have slept long and do not know the danger we are in from Rama and his host of invincible monkeys. They are destroying us all," answered Rávana. "The city is besieged and hard pressed; the best of our warriors have been killed, and I do not know how these rangers of the wood can be defeated. Save us, O scourge of your foes! All our hopes are placed on you."

Kumbhakarna gave a mocking laugh. "Swift punishment has come upon you for the misdeed which we all condemned," he said. "But do not fear, since I am here. I will strike down Rama and his brother today and eat up all these contemptible apes. Let your army rest; I shall go forth alone. Drink your wine and banish grief; I will bring you victory."

"Go forth with well-armed troops!" commanded Rávana. "You do not know how fierce and brave these monkeys are. Anyone rash enough to meet them alone will be torn to pieces by them." He stepped down from his throne and placed a splendid diadem on Kumbhakarna's head and adorned him with a jeweled necklace and earrings. Then that great demon armed himself, and surrounded by soldiers on elephants, horses, and chariots, he went forth from the gate on foot, towering over them all because of his great size.

When he emerged from the gate and saw that vast army before him, he shouted with a voice like a thunderclap and the monkeys fled in all directions, smitten with fear, some of them running back even to the causeway by which they had come. Their leaders called to them and rallied them, and Angada, that fearless and mighty warrior, hurled himself upon the huge fiend, striking him with a rock. Hánuman and Sugriva followed him, but were all struck senseless by the blows of the demon's mace. Then the monkeys fled to Rama for help, and Kumbhakarna followed them and came face to face with the two brothers.

Lákshmana challenged him, loosing a flight of arrows that could not pierce the golden armor of his foe, who passed him by. "Go hence, O Lákshmana, " he said. "I wish to meet Rama. When I have slain him, I will fight you."

"Behold him yonder, standing like a rock, O mighty warrior!" said Lákshmana with a mocking smile, and the demon rushed furiously upon Rama. He whirled his great mace but Rama, with an arrow, cut off the arm that held it. With the other arm the fiend picked up a tree that the monkeys had dropped and came roaring on, and Rama pierced that arm. Then he chose one of the celestial weapons, an arrow whose shaft was inlaid with gold and jewels, brilliant as flame, swift as a thunderbolt. It struck off Kumbhakarna's enormous head, which fell with its diadem and its swinging earrings, while the shock of his fall made the earth tremble. The monkeys leaped up with radiant faces when they saw him fall, and his followers fled, wailing, to the gates.

When Rávana heard of Kumbhakarna's death, he wept with grief and rage. Nonetheless, he had brothers left and sons. Next day he sent forth four of his young sons, guarded by two of his brothers and a host of warriors. They went on splendid chariots, on war horses, and elephants, their brows crowned with diadems, their banners flying, to the sound of drums and gongs.

The monkeys were encouraged by their victories, and met this company eagerly, shouting their defiance, brandishing their weapons. And one by one, Rávana's sons and brothers were slain. One was killed by a blow of Angada fist, another by Hánuman, a third by a rock hurled by Nala, the builder of the causeway. Still another was killed by Hánuman with his own sword which the monkey wrested from his hand. In the same way one of Rávana's brothers was struck down by his own mace brandished by a great ape. The last and most powerful of the king's four sons, who rode on a chariot filled with spears and darts and quivers of arrows, drove the monkey's aside and challenged Rama or Lákshmana to combat. Lákshmana, on foot and with only his bow as a weapon, summoned the divine missiles the sage had given to him and Rama when they were young, and cut the demon's head from his glittering body.

The evil news was brought to Rávana by his fleeing soldiers, and he groaned as he heard of the deaths of his sons and the last of his brothers who were faithful to him. He ordered all the gates to be barricaded, the walls to be carefully guarded, and a watch kept night and day. No attack was made, for all his leading warriors were dead, and he himself despaired of victory. He shut himself in his palace and mourned for those who had died; and in the grove where she was captive, Sita lifted up her head and smiled, for Sarama told her of victory after victory, and day by day, she grew less thin and pale in the hope of seeing Rama.

 

One son was left to Rávana, the most powerful of all, Indrajita, who had defeated the God of the Heavens himself. He found his father sunk in an ocean of grief and said to him, "Indrajita still lives, dear Father; therefore do not despair! Today you will see Rama and Lákshmana lying on the earth, torn to pieces by my arrows that never miss their mark. Give me leave, my lord, to go forth!"

He trusted completely in his power and in his mastery of magic that had always brought him victory. When he had defeated Indra and taken him captive, Brahma himself the Creator, with other gods, had come to Lanka and stood above the city. Rávana and Indrajita came forth upon the terrace of the palace and Brahma spoke amiably to them: "Truly your son has borne himself nobly on the field of battle, O Rávana! He will become a famous and invincible warrior. Tell us now, what shall we bestow upon you as ransom for the lord of heaven?"

"Grant me immortality and he shall be set free," answered Indrajita.

"No creature on earth may be immortal, no matter how powerful he is," said Brahma.

"You know, O exalted one, that I worship Agni with daily sacrifice," said Indrajita. "Let his chariot with its horses be at my service whenever I need it, and may I never be struck down while I am mounted upon it! But if I fail in my sacrifice to him, may I perish in battle! Some seek to enter heaven through penance; I wish to enter it through valor."

"Let it be so!" answered Brahma; and Indra returned with the other gods to his abode in the heavens.

Therefore the son of Rávana was certain of victory over Rama, whom he scorned as a mere man. He went forth gaily with a great troop of warriors, to the sound of martial music, but before he reached the battlefield he went aside to a sacred grove and offered his sacrifice to the God of Fire. Then he summoned the chariot of Agni and spoke a magic spell upon himself and all his weapons. He called out to his warriors. "Be of good cheer! Attack the enemy with confidence!" And he himself in his chariot rose from the earth and became invisible.

While the demons fought fiercely, sure of Indrajita's victory, he poured forth a stream of arrows from where he stood and the monkeys could not see whence they came. At first they fled; then remembering their former victories , they returned bravely, throwing rocks and stones in the direction of the deadly arrows. But Indrajita, invisibly ranging the field, overwhelmed that brave army and hundreds of them fell, crying piteously, and the rest knew not how to save themselves. Then Rávana's son directed his weapons against Rama and Lákshmana. They, too, sent a shower of arrows into the air where they thought their enemy must be, but their shafts fell harmlessly back to earth, while they themselves were targets for Indrajita's skill.

"Let us yield ourselves to these weapons," said Rama to his brother. "We cannot defeat this master of magic while he remains invisible. Let him cover us with a rain of darts! When he sees us lying on the ground, he will think us dead and will return to Lanka to tell his father of his great victory."

They defended themselves no longer and soon fell, unconscious, pierced by the arrows of Indrajita, who burst into laughter and cried out to his troops, "Behold, O demons, Rama is dead!" They cheered him wildly, and in a transport of joy he hastened back to Lanka. He sought out his father and stood before him with joined palms, announcing, "Rama and Lákshmana are slain!" Rávana sprang from his throne, joyfully embraced his son, and ordered a great celebration in his honor.

Meanwhile Sugriva and Hánuman, who were not wounded, stood weeping beside the bodies of the two brothers. But Vibíshana came to them and said, "Have no fear; they are not dead and will recover. See, the color has not left their faces. Keep watch over them, O Sugriva, while Hánuman and I go to encourage and comfort those who have fallen."

The two of them went all over the battlefield, finding many dead and many sorely wounded. They came upon that wise and aged monkey, Jámbavan, whom all respected, and Vibíshana leaned over him to see if he was still alive. In a feeble voice the aged one said, "Tell me, O tiger among demons, does Hánuman still live?"

"He stands here," answered Vibíshana, and Hánuman came forward and touched Jámbavan's feet. "But why do you ask for him instead of the two princes or Sugriva or Angada?"

"Because if he lives, we are all saved," answered Jámbavan, whose voice was stronger since he had seen Hánuman, to whom he now turned. "It is for you to deliver us, O slayer of foes! Cross the great ocean once more and cross the land until you see the peaks of the Himalayas. Then direct your course to the Golden Mountain, from which you will see the summit of Mt. Kailasa. Between these two rises the peak where all the healing herbs grow. Gather them all, O son of the Storm-God, and come back speedily to help us!"

Hánuman felt himself filled with power; he leaped to the top of a hill and again took in his breath, laid his tail over his back, and sprang into the air, like the discus loosed from the hand of Vishnu. He went farther than he had ever gone before. Under him lay the ocean; then he passed over the mountains, rivers, cities, clouds, flights of birds and crowded provinces. Suddenly the Himalayas appeared, the abode of snows, and he beheld the golden peak that Jámbavan had described to him and in the distance the noble summit of Mt. Kailasa. Between them rose the smaller peak of the mountain where the healing herbs grew, and there Hánuman alighted and looked about him. There were a hundred different plants and he did not know which were the right ones; he was in haste to get back and to revive those who lay suffering on the field of battle.

"Why do you not show yourselves to me?" he cried angrily. "Have you no pity for Rama?" And he broke off a great piece of rock on which many plants were growing and sped back over land and sea, carrying it in his arms. He landed with a shout in the monkey's camp, and they all cried out with joy as they saw him coming. He took the rock to Jámbavan, who picked out the healing herbs, crushed them in his hands and held them to the nostrils of Rama and of Lákshmana. They came at once to their senses and rose to their feet as well and strong as ever. Then all those monkeys who had been struck down by Indrajita were also healed and rose up like sleepers waking in the dawn.

Sugriva was so happy that he called the monkeys together, even though the sun had set. "The demons believe that they have won a victory," he said. "Let us throw ourselves upon the city and set it afire! Light torches?"

With flaming torches in their hands, the monkeys rushed upon the gates, terrifying the sleepy sentinels, who fled away. They entered the city, burning the gates and then the buildings within. Splendid palaces, storehouses, stables, went up in flames, and terrified horses and elephants ran wild through the streets. The shrieks of women and the wailing of children rang through the city. Rávana's warriors had been celebrating Indrajita's victory; they were unarmed and had been feasting and drinking. They picked up their weapons and rushed into the streets and squares, where a frightful battle began, lighted by a waning moon and the flaming buildings. Rama and Lákshmana stood just outside the gates, striking down the enemy with the arrows that never missed their mark, and the demons were terrified to see them, risen, as it seemed, from the dead.

At dawn Rama's army withdrew, but in Lanka Indrajita was furious at his failure and planned a new and surer attack. He set out for the grove outside the city's walls where he always offered his sacrifice to Agni. As he came out of the shattered gate, Vibíshana went to Rama. "Whenever Indrajita goes to battle he offers a sacrifice to Agni," he said. "If he completes that sacrifice he cannot be conquered; Agni also will give him the chariot in which he rides the sky and is invisible. But if he does not complete it he may be slain, for so he vowed in the presence of the gods. He is now in the sacred grove. Send Lákshmana at once, and let him kill that powerful magician before he can complete the rites! When Indrajita is slain, Rávana also is slain."

Lákshmana set out at once with Vibíshana to guide him and an escort of eager monkeys, led by Hánuman. Vibíshana took him to a thick grove in the midst of which stood a great fig tree. There, he said, Indrajita was performing his sacrifice, guarded by his army. "Let your monkeys throw themselves upon these troops and scatter them," said Vibíshana. "Then you will see Indrajita and can fight him."

Lákshmana loosed a flight of arrows against the fiends and the monkeys tore up trees and rocks and attacked them fiercely. Hánuman was in fine form and struck about him so powerfully that the enemy fell back before him. Indrajita heard the tumult and saw that his forces were losing; he rose, leaving his sacrifice unfinished; he summoned the chariot of Agni and mounted it. Lákshmana saw him coming and cried out, "I challenge you to single combat, O son of Rávana, in a fair fight!"

Indrajita saw Vibíshana standing beside Lákshmana. "O younger brother of Rávana, why do you try to harm his son?" he cried scornfully. "You are to be pitied, for you have no sense of duty or brotherly feeling. Do you think it wise to leave your own kindred and seek a miserable refuge with strangers? Is it virtuous to abandon your family and to serve their enemy, O impious wretch?"

"You are proud and ill-mannered, O prince," answered Vibíshana. "You do not know my true nature. I do not delight in cruelty and anger, in arrogance and hate, which are my brother's sins. I know that the man who steals others' wives and does not listen to his friends' counsel is doomed. You, your father, and Lanka will all be destroyed. Now enter into combat with Lákshmana and die!"

Then a great fight took place between those two, Indrajita in his chariot and Lákshmana on foot. They were both mighty archers and both wore golden mail that no arrow could pierce. Taunting and insulting one another, they tried one weapon after another, destroying or parrying the other's arrow while it was in the air. Their movements were so swift that no one could see when they picked up their arrows or let them fly, when they stretched the bowstring or loosed it. They were both wounded and breathed hard, but neither one tired or retreated. Lákshmana knew that his enemy drew added power from the chariot in which he rode; he killed the charioteer, and for a short time Indrajita drove the chariot while he fought, a skillful feat. But four great monkeys threw themselves upon the horses and dragged them to earth, another broke the chariot, and Indrajita was forced to fight on foot.

The two heroes had exhausted their usual weapons; both summoned divine ones that the gods had granted them. They loosed their shafts at once and the two met in the air and burst into flames, like two planets colliding. Then Lákshmana took out his most powerful weapon that had belonged to Indra, god of gods. As he placed it on his great bow, he said to it. "If Rama is truly virtuous and faithful and is the greatest of heroes, then slay this son of Rávana!" He stretched his bowstring to his ear and let fly the weapon, which cut the head of Indrajita from his body. With its diadem and earrings, that splendid head looked like a golden ball thrown on the ground.

All this time the soldiers of both sides had been fighting furiously. But when Indrajita fell, the demons flung down their arms and fled, panic-stricken, in all directions, pursued by the triumphant monkeys. Some reached the gates of the city, others ran up the mountain or threw themselves into the sea. When the monkeys gave up the chase they crowded round Lákshmana, jumping up and down, shouting with joy, clapping their hands, and hugging one another as they praised him. The blessed Indra, who had watched the battle from his dwelling in the heavens, rejoiced at the death of his enemy; the gods struck their gongs and the nymphs scattered flowers upon the victorious warrior.

Then Lákshmana, wounded and leaning on Vibíshana and Hánuman, went back to Rama, who received him in a joyful embrace and listened eagerly as Vibíshana told him all that had happened. "Now that you have slain the conqueror of Indra, O mighty warrior, Rávana himself is defeated," Rama said to his brother. "When he hears of the death of his son, he will come forth and I shall slay him at last. Because of your victory it will not be hard to regain Sita and even the whole earth."

 

Seeger, The Ramayana, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 194-208.


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