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Hanuman Nataka / Mahanataka / The great drama

In Ayodhya, there was an illustrious and powerful monarch, the subduer of foes and the renowned ornament of the exalted house of the sun, named Dasaratha in whose family, for the purpose of relieving the Earth of her burden, Bhurisravas (Vishnu) deigned to incorporate his divine substance as four blooming youths. The eldest, endowed with the qualities of imperial worth, was Rama.

He goes with his brother Lakshmana to the court of Mithila, to try his strength in the bending of the bow of Siva, and thereby win Sita for his bride. The hero triumphs. The bow is broken with a deafening sound which brings Parasurama there. Rama wins his bride. He tries the bow of Parasurama and shoots an arrow from it which flies to Swerga or heaven. The Brahmin hero now acknowledges the Kshatriya hero to be his superior. Rama is married to Sita. The sweet loves of the happy pair grows with enjoyment.

Various portents then indicate Rama's impending separation from his father. The sun looks forth dimmed in radiance. Fiery torches wave along the sky. Meteors dart headlong through midheaven. Earth shakes. The firmament rains showers of blood. Around, the horizon thickens. In the day, the pale stars gleam. Unseasonable eclipse darkens the noon. Day echoes with the howls of dogs and jackals, whilst the air replies with horrid and strange sounds, such as shall peal, when the destroying deity proclaims in thunder the dissolution of the world. Rama is exiled. At this, the king dies in agony. It is the result of the stern curse denounced upon the king by the father of the ascetic whom the king, hunting in his youthful days, had accidentally slain.

Rama fixes his residence at Panchavati. Maricha, a Rakshasa, now appears as a deer. The supposed animal is chased by Rama and Lakshmana at Sita's request.

Ravana then comes disguised to see Sita. He mutters, "pious dame! Give me food." She heedlessly oversteps the magic ring traced by Lakshmana, when the Rakshasa seizes her by the hand stretched in charity. She calls in vain the sons of Raghu. Jatayu, the vulture, endeavours to rescue her, but is slain. She encounters Hanuman, the chief Counsellor of Sugriva, the dethroned king of the Monkeys, and begs him to carry her ornaments, which she casts to him, to Rama.

Having slain the deer, the prince, with his brave brother, returns to their bower. He seeks Sita, but seeks in vain. His steps tread three several quarters, the fourth he leaves, overcome with grief and terror, unexplored.

Rama prosecutes his search after Sita. He fights with Bali, the king of the Monkeys, and triumphs over him.

He now despatches Hanuman to Lanka, Hanuman pays a visit to Sita.

He performs various feats at Lanka and returns to Rama whose hosts now advance towards Lanka.

Vibhishana, the brother of Ravana, expostulates with his royal brother, but in vain. Consequently he deserts the king and goes over to Rama.

The Monkeys advance further towards Lanka.

A bridge is built over the sea.

The troops cross over it.

Where first the Monkey bands advance, they view a watery belt smoothly circling round the shore: the following troops plough their way through the thick mire with labour; the chief who leads the rear, filled with wonder, exclaims, "Here is Ocean."

Rama now sends Angada, the son of Bali, to persuade Ravana to relinquish Sita peaceably. Angada has some feeling of aversion to Rama, who killed his father, but thinks he shall best fulfil his father's wishes by promoting the war between Ravana and Rama; he therefore goes to Ravana and defies him in very haughty terms.

Ravana says:--

"Indra, the king of the gods, weaves garlands for me; the thousand-rayed or the Sun keeps watch at my gate; above my head Chandra or the Moon uprears the umbrella of dominion; the wind's and the ocean's monarchs are my slaves; and for my board the fiery godhead toils. Knowest thou not this, and canst thou stoop to praise the son of Raghu, whose frail mortal body is but a meal to any of my households?"

Angada laughs and observes:--"Is this thy wisdom, Ravana? Infirm of judgement dost thou deem of Rama thus--a mortal man? Then Ganga merely flows a watery stream; the elephants that bear the skies, and Indra's steed, are brutal forms; the charms of Rembha are the fleeting beauties of earth's weak daughters, and the golden age, a term of years. Love is a petty archer; the mighty Hanuman, in thy proud discernment, is an ape."

Angada, having in vain endeavoured to persuade Ravana to restore Sita, leaves him to expect the immediate advance of the Monkey host.

Virupaksha and Mahodara, two of Ravana's ministers utter a string of moral and political sentences.

Ravana is not to be persuaded, but goes to Sita to try the effect of his personal solicitations--first endeavouring to deceive her by two fictitious heads, made to assume the likenesses of Rama and Lakshmana. Sita's lamentations are stopped by a heavenly monitor, who tells her that the heads are the work of magic and they instantly disappear. Ravana then vaunts his prowess in war and love, and approaches Sita to embrace her. She exclaims "Forbear, forbear! proud fiend, the jetty arms of my loved lord, or thy relentless sword, alone shall touch my neck."

Thus repulsed, Ravana withdraws, and presently reappears as Rama, with his own ten heads in his hands. Sita, thinking him to be what he appears, is about to embrace him, when the secret virtue of her character as a faithful wife detects the imposition, and reveals the truth to her. Ravana, baffled and mortified, is compelled to relinquish his design. Sita's apprehensions, lest she should be again beguiled, are allayed by a voice from heaven, which announces that she will not see the real Rama until he has beheld Mandodari kiss the dead body of her husband Ravana.

A female Rakhasi attempts to assassinate Rama, but is stopped and slain by Angada. The army then advances to Lanka, and Ravana comes forth to meet it. Kumbhakarna, his gigantic and sleepy brother, is disturbed from his repose to combat. He is rather out of humour at first, and recommends Ravana to give up the lady, observing: "Though the commands of royalty pervade the world, yet sovereigns ever should remember, the light of justice must direct their path." Ravana answers:--

"They who assist us with a holy text are but indifferent friends. These arms have wrested victory from the opposing grasp of gods and demons. Confiding in thy prowess, sure in thee to triumph over my foes, I have relaxed their fibre, but again their nerves are braced, I need thee not; hence to thy cell and sleep." Kumbhakarna replies:--"King, do not grieve, but like a valiant chief, pluck from thy heart all terror of thine enemies, and only deem of thy propitious fortunes, or who shall foremost plunge into the fight----I will not quit thee."

Kumbhakarna's advance terrifies Rama's troops, whom the Kshatriya hero addresses thus:

"Ho! chiefs and heroes, why this groundless panic, the prowess of our enemy untried in closer conflict? Ocean's myriad fry would drain the fountain, and before the swarm of hostile gnats the mighty lion falls." Kumbhakarna is killed by Rama; on which Indrajit, a son of Ravana, proceeds against the brethren. By the arrow called Nagapasa, presented him by Brahma, he casts Rama and Lakshmana senseless on the ground, and then goes to Nikumbhila mountain to obtain a magic car by means of sacrifice. Hanumana disturbs his rites.

Rama and Lakshmana revive, and on being sprinkled with drops of amrita brought by Garura, the latter with a shaft decapitates Meghnada, and tosses the head into the hands of his father Ravana.

Ravana levels a shaft at Lakshmana, given him by Brahma, and charged with the certain fate of one hero. Hanumana snatches it away, after it has struck Lakshmana, before it does mischief. Ravana reproaches Brahma, and he sends Nareda to procure the dart again and keep Hanumana out of the way. With the fatal weapon Lakshmana is left for dead. Rama despairs:--

"My soldiers shall find protection in their caves; I can die with Sita, but thou, Vibhishana, what shall become of thee?"

Hanuman reappears and encourages him. Ravana has a celebrated physician, Sushena, who is brought away from Lanka in his sleep, and directs that a drug (Vishalya) from the Druhima mountain must be procured before morning, or Lakshmana will perish. This mountain is six millions of Yojanas remote, but Hanuman undertakes to bring it bodily to Lanka, and call at Ayodhya on his way.

He accordingly roots up the mountain, and is returning with it to Rama, via Ayodhya, when Bharata, who is employed in guarding a sacrifice made by Vasishtha, not knowing what to make of him, shoots Hanuman as he approaches. He falls exclaiming on Rama and Lakshmana, which leads Bharata to discover his mistake. Vasishtha restores the monkey who sets off for Lanka. On Hanuman's return, the medicament is administered, and Lakshman revives.

An ambassador from Ravana comes and offers to give up Sita for the battle-axe of Parasurama, but this, Rama replies, must be reserved for Indra. On this refusal, Ravana goes forth after a brief dialogue with his queen Mandodari, who animates his drooping courage with the true spirit of the tribe to which she belongs.

"Banish your sorrow, lord of Lanka, take one long and last embrace. We meet no more. Or give command, and by your side I march fearless to fight, for I too am a Kshatriya." The progress of Ravana through the air appals all Nature. The winds breathe low in timid murmurs through the rustling woods; the sun with slackened fires gleams pale abroad and the streams, relaxing from their rapid course, slowly creep along. Ravana defies Rama with great disdain and in derision of his modest demeanour, asks him whether he is not overcome with shame by the recollection of his ancestor, Anaranya, killed formerly by Ravana.

Rama replies:--

"I am not ashamed my noble ancestor fell in the combat. The warrior seeks victory or death, and death is not disgrace. It ill befits thee to revile his fame. When vanquished, thou couldst drag out an abject life in great Haihaya's dungeons, till thy sire begged thee to freedom, as a matter of charity. For thee alone I blush, unworthy of my triumph."

Ravana falls under the arrows of Rama. The heads, that once, sustained on Siva's breast, shone with heavenly splendour, now lie beneath the vulture's talons. Mandodari bewails the death of her husband. Sita is recovered, but Rama is rather shy of his bride, until her purity is established by her passing through the fiery ordeal: a test she successfully undergoes. Rama returns with Sita and his friends to Ayodhya, when Angada challenges them all to fight him, as it is now time to revenge his father's death. A voice from heaven, however, tells him to be pacified, as Bali will be born as hunter in a future age, and kill Rama, who will then be Krishna: he is accordingly appeased. Rama is now seated on the throne of Ayodhya. After some time, he orders the exile of Sita.