Friday, 2 September 2016

English Story In the Presence of the Ten-Headed King

English Story
In the Presence of the Ten-Headed King

Hanuman's leap across the ocean in search of  Sita, his discovery of her in Raavana's ashoka garden in the island of Lanka and his subsequent rampage there, destroying Raavana's beautiful garden and the guards
protecting it form the subject of the Sundara Kaanda in Valmiki's Ramayana. The poet tells us of how Hanuman consoles Sita in her grief, gives her the assurance of Rama's arrival and then decides to challenge the might of Raavana. In doing so, he ends up killing Raavana's youngest son Akshaya, who was sent by his father to get rid of the intruder in his territory. Realizing that his foe was no ordinary monkey, Raavana sends his elder son 'Indrajit' Meghanada to capture him.
The action-packed encounter between Raavana's son and Rama's envoy merits special telling and will be the subject of another post. This particular story begins with Hanuman being taken to Raavana's throne room to answer for the damage he had caused.

Hanuman was led through the streets of Lanka in something of a victory procession. The raakhsasas accompanying him prompted and encouraged the citizens on the streets to jeer at him, as though binding him in chains and dragging him through the streets like they did was a victory that they had achieved themselves. Little did they know that the son of Vayu had allowed himself to be bound precisely so that he could be led thusly on a tour of the city that he intended raiding with his army a few days later. He had tired of simply uprooting the trees of the garden and had decided that he had killed enough of those whom Raavana had sent to stop him. He regretted killing Akshaya Kumara, Raavana's valiant but foolish son who had thought he could tame him, Hanuman, with his wee bow and knives. Meghanada, however, had shown greater prudence. He had been swift in summoning the ultimate weapon- the Brahmaastraa- to tame his foe, whose potential he had assessed correctly, earning Hanuman's respect. Then, with a dignity befitting the crown prince of a kingdom as impressive as Raavana's Lanka, Meghanada had promptly issued orders to his subordinate raakshasas to have him chained and brought before Raavana in the courtroom and then left.

As he was brought into the throne chamber of Raavana, Hanuman couldn't help but feel overawed. Everything about Lanka- her streets, houses, the planning of the city, the prosperity of the people, the architectural grandiosity of Raavana's palace- seemed magnificent, but the courtroom, in all its golden splendor, was like the crown on the head of the glory of Lanka and the fair-skinned king, sitting on his throne, was the crown jewel.

His robes and ornaments sang of unrestrained opulence. His massive frame with strong arms and chest and a protuberant belly spoke of might tempered only by affluence and prosperity. His ten heads were a picture of harmony in chaos; replete with the wisdom of the Vedas and Upanishads, each of them reflected a disparate mood or emotion- some were even hissing and murmuring- but it was plainly evident that the central head, the largest of the ten, was in control. There was more grey than black in his long, wavy hair and dense mustaches and yet the playful aspect of serving girls and daasis around him was evidence enough that his virility, much like his brute strength, was undiminished with age. Here was, Hanuman felt, a being who had not only embraced every worldly pleasure that existence had to offer, but had subordinated it. The richness of his presence made it easy for Hanuman to almost forget that he was the abductor of Sita, the wife of his dear Rama. And then his gaze was caught by the tripundra, the three parallel white lines with a red dot in the center on each of Raavana's ten brows. It struck Hanuman as profundly ironic how one like Raavana, who was clearly the very epitome of hedonism, was also arguably the staunchest devotee of Siva, the consummate ascetic, as the lines on his foreheads marked him out to be. Those foreheads, Hanuman noticed, were all now furrowing with fierce frowns and scowls. The ten-headed king, terror of all the worlds, was also a father whose youngest son had been brutally murdered just hours ago and who was faced with the murderer of his son, bound in chains before him.

Hanuman folded his hands and bowed to Raavana, in the accepted gesture of respectful greeting. Raavana did not reciprocate. He continued to stare down silently at Hanuman from his high position atop his throne. Not minding his unwelcome reception, Hanuman quickly lengthened his tail enough to coil it repeatedly, made a seat slightly higher than Raavana's out of it and leapt to sit on its top. He now faced the king of Lanka like an equal, silently but elegantly distinguishing humility from meekness in the presence of Raavana's courtiers.
"Who are you? Why did you destroy my garden and kill my son?," Raavana asked of him at length. His tone bore unmistakable menace and contempt.
"Hanuman, son of Vayu deva, the Wind God. The prime minister of Sugreeva of Kishkindha and the emissary of Rama Chandra, whose beloved wife you hold under captivity. Return Sita to Rama and be spared. Fail to do so and you shall regret the loss of more than just the brave son I slew."
One of Raavana's heads disdainfully repeated the word "emissary" and then spat. Another did the same for "Sugreeva". The central head, brimming with rage, ordered his immediate execution.
Just as Raavana's guards hastened toward Hanuman with their weapons, his youngest brother, Vibhishana, the prime minister of Lanka, intervened and reminded Raavana that it would be unmeet to kill a messenger. All ten of Raavana's heads looked at him with disgust.
"No immunity is given to murderers in Lanka. Least of all to simian louts who vandalize my property and kill my son."
"Lanka mourns the loss of its valiant son and the scores of others killed by the barbaric vaanara who stands before us. But to take the life of a diplomat would shame us and earn you permanent disrepute," said Vibhishana.
"Do you suggest that we let him go unpunished, then?," roared Raavana. It was a testament to Vibhishana's bravery that he did not so much as quiver before the fiery gaze of his brother's ten heads.
"Of course not, brother. Let us mark him or maim him and send him back to his king, conveying to the enemy that Lanka brooks no intrusion."
Raavana smiled at his brother's gumption. Addressing Hanuman, he said, "Would that you were a man and I should have emasculated you with pleasure. But you are a lowly vaanara. A monkey with a long tail. I shall burn this tail of yours and leave your rump forever scarred, that you may limp back to your friends and tell them that Raavana stands unbowed."

And thus it was ordered that Hanuman's tail be wrapped in oil-soaked cloth and set ablaze. The son of Vayu, however, felt no pain when the punishment was inflicted on him. He slipped free of his bounds and ran from the courtroom, dragging his burning tail behind him. He leapt from roof to roof, torching houses with gay abandon. He thought he had demonstrated the might of a single vaanara of Rama's army of millions effectively enough. His job done, his mission accomplished, he leapt into the sky and before dipping his tail into the ocean to extinguish the fire, he turned back one last time and took a good, long look at the beautiful city he had left burning. His interview with its ten-headed king, though brief, would remain forever etched in his memory.