[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Ramayana unit. Story source: Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913).
Slowly passed the days of waiting. Ofttimes did Rama grieve for Sita. He was wont to speak to Lakshmana, saying: "Delightful is the season of rain and tempest unto those who dwell in happy homes in the midst of their families; it is a time of sorrow to those who suffer separation. . . . Behold the great black clouds like to battling elephants leaping and rolling in heaven. Thunder roars amidst the mountains. The lightnings flash and sparkle; alas! their golden lustre in the darkness of night reminds me of my lost Sita. . . . Now the wind falls and the earth is bright with rain tears, and I hear the sighing of Sita as she weeps in pain and sorrow. . . . The rainbow comes forth in beauty like to Sita arrayed with jewels and ornaments. . . . Now the earth is refreshed: trees are budding and flowers bloom again in beauty, but I cannot be consoled. Lost is Sita, my dearly beloved; she writhes in the palace of the Rakshasa king as the lightning writhes amidst the black clouds. . . . Ah! I abandoned my throne and kingdom with joy because Sita was with me; now my heart is breaking because she hath been snatched away. . . . See how the shadows gather again; winds roar and rains pour down; as dubious is my future, and dark as is this gloomy day of sorrow. Jatayus hath told that Sita is concealed in a distant fastness. . . . How can I be consoled? I mourn not for myself alone, but chiefly because she whom I love sorrows and suffers in a strange land."
Sita in Lanka
Now, when Sita was dwelling in the palace of the demon king, guarded by Rakshasa women, Ravana approached her again and again, and addressed to her sweet speeches, praising her beauty and endeavouring to win her love. But Sita rejected him with scorn. Although she was his prisoner, he could not win her by force. She was strengthened by her own virtue; she was protected by Brahma's dread decree.
Be it known that once upon a time the lustful Ravana had seized by force a nymph of Indra's heaven whose name was Punjikashthala. When he committed that evil offence, Brahma spake angrily and said that Ravana's head would be rent asunder if ever again he attempted to act in like manner towards another female in heaven or upon earth.
Sita said unto the demon king: "Thou shalt never have me for wife either in this world or in the next. Rather would I die than gratify thy desire."
Angry was Ravana, and he commanded the female Rakshasas to convey Sita to the Asoka grove, believing that her heart would be melted by the beauties of that fair retreat. "Thou wilt provide her with fine raiment," he said, "and with rich ornaments and delicious food, thou wilt praise me before her, and anon threaten her with dire calamity if she refuseth to become my bride."
Sita remembered Rama in her heart by day and by night, and wept and moaned for him, refusing to be comforted.
When the rainy season was drawing to a close, Rama fretted because Sugriva, King of the Vanars, was making no effort to collect his forces and prepare for the recovery of Sita. Instead, he drank wine and spent the days in merriment among his wives.
At length Lakshmana visited the palace and threatened Sugriva with death because he had broken his promise, whereat the monarch summoned speedily his great armies of apes and bears in countless numbers. Four divisions were then sent out to the north and the south, and eastward and westward, to search for Sita.
Success attended the efforts of the army commanded by Hanuman. It chanced that his officers discovered on a mountain summit Sampati, the brother of Jatayus, King of the Vultures. He was wounded and helpless, because his wings had been scorched by endeavouring to soar to the sun so that he might fulfil a vain boast. Although stricken thus, Sampati could still see clearly over vast distances. He had beheld Ravana carrying away Sita across the ocean towards Lanka. This knowledge he communicated through his son to Hanuman. When he rendered such great service to Rama his wings began to grow, and he was enabled once again to take flight athwart the blue heaven.
Hanuman's Flight to Lanka
Hanuman then resolved to visit the distant island with purpose to discover where Sita had been hidden. Assuming gigantic form, he stood upon a mountain top and leapt seaward. The mountain shook when he sprang from it. Over the sea went the wind god's son and that swiftly. But demons endeavoured to arrest his progress through the air. Surasa, mother of the Nagas, rose up with gaping jaws, and cried: "Thou must needs pass through my mouth ere thou wilt go farther, O Hanuman."
Image source: Hanuman battles Surasa
The heroic Ape extended his bulk, but the Naga hag opened wider and wider her jaws to prevent him passing. Then Hanuman shrank to the size of a man's thumb and leapt into her mouth and out of it again and again so as to fulfil her conditions, whereat the hag owned that she was defeated and allowed him to pass.
Next arose the she dragon, Sinhika, who clutched the shadow of Hanuman and held him back. Wrathfully she sprang forward to devour him, but again the cunning Ape contracted himself and, entering her mouth, attacked her and wounded her so that she was slain.
Leaping from her body, Hanuman resumed his journey until he arrived at Lanka. Night had fallen but the moon shone brightly. He assumed the form of a cat and crept stealthily through the capital, gazing on the wonders about him.
He reached the great palace of Ravana and entered therein. It had shining crystal floors and jewelled stairways of gold and silver. The mansion of Indra was not more beautiful than that resplendent palace of the demon king. Hanuman crept on through the women's chamber and beheld fair forms "subdued in all the shapes of sleep;" beautiful were they as lotus blooms that await the sun's first kiss ere they open their soft eyelids, or as the lustrous stars on an autumn night gleaming and moving in heaven — it seemed as if a wreath of sweet human blossoms had been thrown carelessly into that perfumed chamber of sleep.
Next: Sita in the Asoka Grove