Chapter 7(a)
The Bridge


ramagold.jpg (27175 bytes)Looking at the sea, Rama questioned how it was proposed to cross it. Many among the Vanaras suggested means and methods. At last Vibhishana rose from his place and addressed Rama thus: "Lord! The Ocean owes its origin to your forefathers, Sagara and his sons [see RRV-7(a)] It is the family 'preceptor' of your line. If only you resolve that it should be crossed, the Vanaras can easily go across". 

Meanwhile, a messenger sent by Ravana was sighted by Vibhishana and the Vanaras bound him and took him to where Sugriva, their Ruler was. Sugriva ordered that his limbs be cut off; when the Vanaras prepared themselves for the execution of that order, the fellow raised a hue and cry. He shouted in his pain, "O Vanaras! I swear by Rama! Do not cut off my nose and ears". His pathetic cry was heard by Lakshmana; he asked that the Rakshasa be brought to his presence; he spoke softly to him, and admonished the Vanaras for torturing a Messenger deputed by Ravana. He wrote a letter and placed it in his hand, with the words: "Give this missive to Ravana. And, repeat to him the words I now utter: O, Demolisher of the fortunes of your own clan! Change your heart at least this day, and fall at the feet of Rama. Rama will pardon you. Do not decimate and destroy the Rakshasa tribe, in order to prop up your wiles. Know there is no other means available to you to avoid the Death that is imminent." With these hard and heavy warnings, the Messenger was sent back to his master! The fellow was overjoyed that he could escape alive; he shouted "Jai to Lord Ramachandra," and fell at Rama's feet before he hied back home. 

At the Court of Ravana, he related the events that had ensued and started describing with uncontrollable delight the majestic charm of Rama. He gave Ravana the letter Lakshmana had entrusted him with. Ravana enquired about his brother, Vibhishana, and asked how he fared. "Fie upon him", he ejaculated, "his days are numbered; death will swallow him soon. He is a pest, bred in this granary. He left this Lanka and joined the camp of my foe. Misfortune will haunt him until he dies". He turned to the fellow and asked him, "Under this pretext, you visited their camp. Did you not tell them of our military might and adamantine resolve? Tell me also what you learnt about their resources and capabilities". The messenger, Suka, stood before the throne with folded palms, and said, "Lord! I pray that you extend some grace to me and listen calmly and with forbearance to what I say. The very moment your brother sealed friendship with Rama he was crowned Emperor of Lanka by him! Knowing that I reached their camp as your messenger, the Vanaras caught hold of me and tortured me in various ways. I swore in Rama's name and called upon him to save me; therefore, they allowed me to come away unmutilated, with my nose and ears intact. Had I a thousand tongues, I cannot describe the might of those Vanara armies. What a galaxy of heroic warriors are they! There are Vanaras of many different colours, of all ages and grades, of gigantic stature and strength. One shakes in terror when one casts his eyes at them; why, even to picture them in the mind or think about them is a terror-striking experience. Imagine the night of that one Vanara who killed your son (Akshayakumara, see RRV-6(a)) and reduced the City to ashes! It is all the result of their being reflections and echoes of the invincible might of Rama himself. Even the tiniest brat among the monkeys becomes, by that token, a horrifying monster. There are monkey warriors with various names, and each of them is endowed with the strength of many herds of elephants. Dwivida, Mainda, Nila, Nala, Angada, Vikata, Dadhimukha, Kesari, Kumuda, Daja, Gavaksha, Jambavantha - these are the generals. Everyone of them is equal in might and military skill to their Ruler, Sugriva. And, there are hundreds of thousands more among them, who are of equal might. Their number is beyond calculation. Their fury and ferocity can destroy earth, heaven and the nether regions, as if these were but heaps of straw. Lord, I heard that their number is 18 Padmas. And, each Padma has a valiant general at its head. Emperor! I did not find a single Vanara, from the highest to the lowest, who doubted their victory; nor was there anyone who had the least trace of nervousness on the eve of the march. They are all tightening their muscles to pound this City; they are only waiting for the signal from Rama. They have not had it so far. 

"Whether the ocean yields to them and gives the right of way or not, they are determined to build a causeway of stones, and succeed in their venture. They are baring teeth and gnashing them, boasting that they would squeeze Ravana out of shape and reduce him into a handful of pulp. Fear strikes everyone who listens to their exultant roar and challenging call. The instant they hear the name Ravana uttered within earshot, they get so enraged that they pluck giant trees root and branch, and brandish them in angry demonstration of hate. They are swaying and swinging, surging and shouting, in their eagerness to consume this City. They have equally redoubtable bears too among them. And, to crown all, they have Rama as their leader, capable of overwhelming millions of 'Death-deities'. Hundreds of thousands of Adi-seshas, each of which is blessed with a thousand heads and tongues, cannot do full justice, if asked to describe the heroism and military skill of Rama. With one arrow shot from his bow, he can dry up even the Ocean." 

The reaction of Ravana to this report of the spy and messenger was a peal of wild laughter. He said, "Fie on you. Giving ear to the pratings of the monkeys that surround him and of that arch coward, Vibhishana, you are extolling that fool so high. It is sheer nonsense to describe the strength and heroism of mere monkeys. Enough. Enough! Can monkeys be ever so strong! I have heard enough, long ago, of the power and might of this Sugriva; and, what can this poltroon Vibhishana, who has become his minister now, do? Can he contribute any wealth, victory or resources to Rama?" 

The messenger could only pine within himself and bewail the lack of intelligence that Ravana was exhibiting. He folded his palms in obeisance and stood silent. Then Ravana tore the envelope of the missive that Lakshmana had sent, and, after perusing it, handed it over to his Minister. He said, "You are like the thithiri bird afraid that the sky will fall upon its young fledglings! Poor thing! It covers the little one holding its head over them as a cover! Can the sky ever fall and kill the birds! Can these anchorites, these ritual-ridden priests, who try to frighten me by a shower of words, ever succeed? "Suka, the messenger, watched the heroics of Ravana for some time. Then, he intercepted with the words, "Lord! What I have now said is the full truth. Read well and carefully the contents of that letter and act, without any sense of resentment or pride. Listen! Give up the hostility you have developed. Rama is very tender of heart and compassionate. He is the master of the three worlds. If only you approach him, he will take you under his protection and guard you from harm. He will pardon all your wrongs. Surrender Sita to Him. Give heed to my prayer." The envoy pleaded plaintively that Ravana save himself from ruin. 

While he was pouring out his pleas, Ravana's eyes reddened with anger and shame. He roared in protest, "what! do you take me to be a criminal! Did I send you, o fool, to go and surrender at the feet of those prattling babies of the forest? Audacity and impertinence cannot go further," and, rising from the throne, he kicked the fellow out of the Hall. The Rakshasa, Suka, fled to the camp of Rama and sought refuge. But, the Vanaras seeing him again amidst them were moved into revenge; however they restrained themselves, and awaited the orders of Rama. Sugriva led Suka to the presence of Rama. Suka prostrated before Rama and related in detail his story and fate. He prayed that he might be accepted as Vibhishana was accepted, and that he might be protected by his new Master. Rama, as the very embodiment of compassion, called to his presence the leaders of the Vanaras, and directed them to welcome their new brother, Suka. He too was overcome by gratitude and he declared that his life had reached its goal. 

Then, Rama directed Lakshmana to bring him the bow and arrow, and when he brought them, Rama said, "Haughty persons deserve no kindness; mischievously cruel persons deserve no softness; misers by nature deserve no moral teaching; egotistic persons deserve no advice, greedy persons cannot benefit from insistence on renunciation; persons stricken with anger deserve no counsel on being at peace; lust-crazy victims deserve no scriptural readings; saline fields deserve no seeds of grain. So too this Ocean that does not yield to soft request deserves no mercy." So saying, he fitted an arrow to his bow; at this, Lakshmana was afraid what the consequence would be for the Ocean. The Ocean too was rendered hot at the mere preparation to shoot the arrow into its depths. The denizens of the deep suffered extreme agony. As if terror-stricken, the waves began screaming. Wave after wave rolled towards the place where Rama stood and, gently lapped his feet, as if praying for mercy. At that time, a Voice was heard as if from the sky, "Lord! There are two generals in the campus, Nala and Nila, who are targets of a curse pronounced by a sage. That curse can now be used as a blessing. Listen. The story can now be told". The Ocean itself communicated the details of that dire incident to Rama. [Picture: Samudra assured Rama that Rama would be able to cross the ocean]

"There were many hermits living on a river bank in cottages. While young, these two entered these hermitages; while the sages were immersed in deep meditation, seizing the holy icons called saligrams which they worshipped, they used to cast them into the waters of the river. The sages were enraged at this sacrilege and they cast a curse on them, in this manner. 'Boys! May all things that you throw on water never sink; may they float instead. And, may they remain just where you have thrown them, even if the waters flow fast in floods.' Therefore, every rock they throw will float at the very place; have your Name inscribed on every slab and rock. Your Name is light, not heavy at all. Thus, even huge mountain peaks when thrown would float and form a bridge. I shall also contribute my share of help, for, when the search is for Truth, all Nature must serve the seeker." Rama decided not to let go the arrow he had fitted; but, since, his arrow, once fixed had to find a target, he aimed it at a forest area in the far distance and, as a result, it became a dry desert. 

Rama called together the ministers and directed them to construct the bridge across the Ocean. Hanuman said, "Lord! Your Name is the bridge that can safely transport man across the Ocean of Life. Which bridge can be stronger and safer than that?" Jambavan, the aged General, said, "Lord! Your prowess, which is a raging conflagration, can dry up this mass of water; it is sure to be filled to the brim again by the tears of the women widowed in Lanka during the coming battle with Ravana and his armies." 

Rama smiled at the simple sincere loyalty and valour of these devotees. Jambavan reminded Nala and Nila of the assurance given by the unseen source, which was no other than the Ocean itself, about the use that can now be made of curse they had drawn upon themselves while young. He directed them to install Rama in their hearts and throw hills, hillocks, mountains and rocks into the sea. At this, the Vanara heroes ran in all directions, and brought back entire hills on their heads and shoulders, as if they were as light as balls used for games. They stood in one long line and passed the hills from shoulder to shoulder, all the while repeating aloud the name of Rama. Off and on, they also uprooted huge trees, and passed them onward to the bridge site, where Nala and Nila were casting the materials into the water. 

[See also: Space images taken by NASA reveal a mysterious ancient bridge in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka.]

The whole of that day they worked without rest and with no thought of food or sustenance. They built a length of 14 yojanas in one day. Refreshed by a good night's sleep, they rose before dawn, during the Brahma Muhurtha itself, and resumed work. They acclaimed with cheers, "Jai to Sri Ramachandra, our Lord," and hurried to the various corners of the land in search of hills and mountains. They brought them on to the shore and piled them there for being used by Nala and Nila. 

The second day, the bridge was extended by another twenty yojanas; the next day, they were able to build it for a further length of twenty-one yojanas; the fourth day saw the bridge extending over a further twenty-two yojanas. And, on the fifth day, by constructing a further twenty-three yojanas, they completed the 100-yojana bridge in another successful spurt. 

Thus, Nala and Nila, unconcerned with exhaustion or the need for rest, intent on fulfilling the task assigned by Rama for the completion of his mission, were able to announce in the presence of Rama that the bridge was ready, because his Name and Form were ever before those who toiled for its completion. 

Rama was informed through Sugriva that the hundred-yojana bridge, he had resolved upon was finished and ready to be used. Rama and Lakshmana were pleased at the devotion and sense of duty of the Vanaras, who finished the job so soon and so well. Rama directed the Ruler of the Monkeys, Sugriva, to pass along the long line of Vanaras the order that each one should deposit the hill he was transporting at the time, at the very place he stood, and take a little rest before returning to base. Sugriva conveyed the order to those who were engaged in passing from shoulder to shoulder, the boulders and peaks for the bridge. Hanuman was at that moment transporting a huge hill from the far north. When he heard that Rama had ordered that it be deposited, he cast it down, near Brindavana where he was at the time. He was surprised to hear a loud wail from the fallen peak. "Alas", it cried, "I have lost the chance of service to Rama." It could not be consoled or comforted. When Hanuman brought its condition to the notice of Rama, Rama smiled in appreciation. He said, "Ah! Even mountains are yearning anxiously to participate in this task!" He expressed joy at their enthusiasm. He told Hanuman, "Go quick. Console the hill. Tell it not to be sad. During the coming Dwapara Age, I shall hold that hill high on my palm, for seven days and nights. On hearing this, the peak will be happy". That assurance made it the Govardhana Hill [see Bagavatha Vahini, Chapter 38], which the Lord held aloft as promised in the Tretha Age

On the fifth day, Rama sat on the seashore, and was delighted when he saw the bridge. "0 Vanaras!", he said, "Your devotion and skill in service are beyond description. By your sense of dedication you have won my heart." At that time, Vibhishana came into the presence and said, "Lord! We have to enter Lanka tomorrow; so, I have a prayer to place before you." Rama replied, "What is it? Tell me." Vibhishana continued, "Ravana is a devout worshipper of Siva. He has intense attachment towards that aspect of Godhead. Yet, it is certain he will meet death at your hands. I pray that, to commemorate his devotion to Siva, you may, on the eve of moving towards Lanka and entering it through this bridge, install a Sivalinga here, so that in coming centuries, when people enter Lanka along this route, they can worship the Sivalinga and remember these events. They would indeed be fortunate to have such experience. The Linga would be extolled by them as Rama Lingeswara, the Idol installed by Rama. And, even when the bridge is eroded and crumbled by time, the spot could be identified by future generations by means of the Idol worshipped here." Rama was happy at the suggestion. He said, "I shall fulfill your wish. You are the future Ruler of Lanka, and in order to please you, I am ready to carry out your wishes, whatever is involved." At this, Sugriva directed the Vanaras to get all the requisites for the installation; he procured an impressive Linga sending Hanuman himself for the purpose. Rama performed the ceremonial ablution for the Linga with water from the sea and invoked Vitality and Grace into It. Rama's words had the effect of manthra or sacred formula; so, nothing more was needed to sanctify the Linga. The Vanaras uttered hymns and their ecstatic shouts echoed from the heavens. Amidst the Jai Jai of the hordes standing around, Lakshmana and Sugriva helped Rama to plant the Linga in position and to complete the ceremony of Consecration. 

Then, the Vanaras started marching over the bridge in regular formation, with the picture of Rama in their minds and the name of Rama on their tongues. The scene was inexpressibly sublime. Rama and Lakshmana stood on the bridge and looked at the sea surging on both sides. The presence of Rama, the Ocean of Compassion, raised the spirits of the Ocean below. Waves rose to catch a glimpse of Rama; the denizens of the sea peeped over the waters and frolicked in joy at the sight of Rama. They discarded their natures and stared long and hungrily at the Divine Form of Rama. The Vanaras had prepared a camp on the Lanka end of the bridge; so, when the vanguard reached the heights, the news spread throughout the island. Very soon, Rama, Lakshmana, Sugriva and Vibhishana, who crossed at a slow pace, also reached the main gate of the fort of Lanka. Accepting the orders of Rama, the Vanaras plucked entire trees, and dancing in joy, they ate the fruits and cast the branches and twigs over the battlements into the City itself. They heaved huge boulders over the wall and dropped them into the streets beyond. They sought out Rakshasas moving about alone outside the fort; they teased and tormented them, threatening to wring their necks. Such pranks of the monkeys could not be restrained.

Very soon, news reached Ravana that the enemy was at the gate. Though possessed of ten throats, Ravana was using only one throat so far to communicate with others; but, now, he roared through all the ten, in anger and hate. He did not remember that it was a bad omen to speak through the ten throats! There was a curse laid on him long ago, that when he spoke through all the ten his end would draw near. Within a few seconds of the roar, he recollected the curse and was frightened at the fact. But, however much he attempted to control the other throats, his voice came out of all the ten. The Rakshasas who noted this strange occurrence inferred that his destruction was imminent, now that Rama and his Vanara armies had entered Lanka. They sat amidst their wives and children and lamented that their lives would end that day or the next. They decided to use the little time they had at their disposal in merry-making and pleasure. When calamity approaches, discrimination departs, says the proverb. 

Even when he knew that the curse was coming true, Ravana dismissed the warning, and told himself that nothing evil would happen to him. He moved into the Queen's apartments, for, he was afraid the Ministers might read from his fallen face that he was overcome by the awareness of the curse. Ravana sank with himself through anxiety and agony. "Will they, as when my sister fell into their hands, slice off the noses and ears of my ten heads? Or, will they slice off the heads themselves?" These fears haunted him. 

He saw Mandodari, the Queen, in the apartment. Her eyes discovered that Ravana had become forlorn. She decided to administer wise counsel to him. She held his hands in hers and, in a soft, smooth and sweet voice, she said "Lord! Please listen to me, give up your anger; pay heed to my words. Think over them carefully. Those whom we can win over by reverence and devotion, we should not plan to win over by hatred and opposition. In such circumstances, we have to resort to intelligent reasoning. It will not bring any good, if we oppose such sacred persons. You cannot achieve victory if you encounter Rama; the glow-worm cannot vanquish the Sun. Listen to me. Take Sita, at least this moment, and, while returning her safe, prostrate before him and pray for pardon. Do not ruin your life and destroy Lanka and sacrifice the lives of its women and children. Persisting in your resolve to fight is not in line with the devotion and dedication to God that you are famous for. If you hold fast to this horrid decision, even Siva, whom you have pleased hitherto, is sure to give you up. Good deeds alone can win the grace of God; how can God reward and appreciate such heinous acts?" 

Mandodari spoke in this strain for a long time trying to mend his ways and to save him from destruction. "Lord! You are as dear to me as my own life. Pay heed. Rama is no ordinary human prince. He is the very person who destroyed Madhu and Kaitabha come again! He killed Hiranyaksha [see SB: C3-13] and Hiranyakasipu [see SB: C3-17]. He is the Lord who trampled on the head of Emperor Bali. He demolished the pride of the thousand-armed Karthaviryarjuna. Then why boast of the prowess of your mere twenty? He is worshipped by the entire world; he is of the most auspicious form. A long time ago, you had yourselves told me that Brahma had told you that God would incarnate as Rama in order to relieve the earth of the burden of cruelty and vice. Do you not remember? Aware of all this, how is it that you do not give up this path, and recognize the truth? Return to Rama the Acme of Chastity, the Diadem of the Virtuous, the Incomparable Jewel of beauty, Sita; then let us crown our son as Emperor of this realm and spend the rest of our days in peace and plentiful joy in the immediate presence of Rama. Ah! How fortunate is your brother! He is moving in the cool shade of Rama's grace. It is not too late. At this very moment, hasten towards Rama who is at the very entrance of Lanka and fall at his feet, praying for pardon". 

Mandodari was in tears when she spoke thus; she rolled at the feet of her lord, appealing to him to be warned in good time and to take immediate measures to rescue himself and his empire, his people and his fame. Ravana raised her to her feet and wiped her eyes. He said, "Dear one! Why are you agitated thus? Wherefrom all this fear, this lack of courage? There is no one more powerful than me in the world. The rulers of the eight directions have been defeated by the might of my arm. Death dare not step near me. Do not yield to fear. You are extolling that weakling Rama in my hearing unaware of the depth and extent of my might". With these words, he left the Queen and entered the Audience Hall, where he promptly sat on the throne. Mandodari noticed his movements and the trend of his thoughts; she said to herself, "What a fool! This is the inevitable fate of persons who do not give up their false pride. Good counsel cannot enter their minds. When one is suffering from fever, sweet things taste bitter. He is now having the poisonous fever of pride; therefore, nectarine counsel is rejected by him, as if it is poison. What more can I do now?" She pictured in her mind the calamities and sorrows that were in store for Lanka. She felt that, before witnessing and sharing in all that misery and grief, it would be better to end life itself. With a heavy heart and with thoughts of Rama filling her, she went into her room and threw herself on the bed. 

Meanwhile, Ravana sent for his ministers and set about making preparations for the battle that was imminent. "Rakshasas!", he accosted, "The Vanaras, the Jambavanthas, and the men who are now attacking us are not even a morsel for our maws. Do not lose courage, hesitate or argue. Plunge into the fight. Get ready", he yelled. But, Prahastha stood up from his seat, and with folded palms, he said, "Rakshasas! Let us not desert the right path. Lord! These ministers of yours speak words that are in line with your desire. But, that will not ensure success. One solitary monkey crossed the ocean and coming into our City performed many a wonderful feat. At that time, these ministers and these armies could not put an end to his destructive antics. You say monkeys are but morsels for our maws. Well, when that monkey was here, where were those maws? Did they have no hunger? When it burnt the City into a heap of ashes, these ministers had evidently no appetite to eat it! Lord! The words that fall from the lips of these ministers might appear very pleasant to you now but they will bring about dire calamities as time moves on. Think about all this in the quiet hours. Rama has struck camp on our Suneela Mountain; he came over the sea through a bridge they constructed; he has with him an army of uncounted numbers of Vanaras. Can such a person be a mere man? Give up that surmise if you believe so. Do not prattle as the tongue, that is let loose, talks. Do not welcome into your ears the rhetoric of these ministers. Do not also condemn me as a coward, afraid of battle. Believe in me and in the aptness and urgency of my advice. Take Sita with you now itself and surrender her to him, praying for pardon. That step will save us and save Lanka. We can then claim that we have rescued our tribe from destruction. This is the triumph we can achieve. Or else, face defeat and disaster. Get ready this very moment; your renown will last until the Sun and Moon endure. Do not acquire a name that will be execrated so long as the Sun and Moon endure".  


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